Passions on both sides of the birth control debate were inflamed Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that some businesses can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraception for women.
But one University of South Carolina law professor called the Hobby Lobby ruling "not a huge surprise."
"It could have gone different ways, but the court has, in recent years, been very pro-corporation," said health care attorney and professor Jacqueline Fox.
The justices' 5-4 decision is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law.
Two years ago, Chief Justice John Roberts cast the pivotal vote that saved the Affordable Care Act in the midst of Presidenet Barack Obama's campaign for re-election.
On Monday, dealing with a small sliver of the law that requires health plans to cover a range of preventative services - including conception - at no extra charge, Roberts sided with the four justices who would have struck down the law in its entirety in 2012.
The court stressed that its ruling applies only to corporations that are under the control of just a few people in which there is no essential difference between the business and its owners.
Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion for this case, said the decision is limited to contraceptives under the health care law. "Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer's religious beliefs," Alito said.
The court's four liberal justices dissented.
While Fox contends that the scope of the ruling is narrow and that relatively few women will be affected by it, local groups on both sides of the issue offered swift and more dramatic reaction to the decision on Monday.
"Ninety-nine percent of women use birth control at some point in their lives, and in South Carolina alone we have over 530,000 women in need of contraceptive services and supplies. Clearly birth control is basic health care," said Eme Crawford, manager of online mobilization for Tell Them, a nonprofit group that supports sex education and access to reproductive health counseling in South Carolina.
"For five men on the Supreme Court to decide that a woman's boss has the power to take away basic health care is deeply troubling," she said.
Melissa Reed, a spokeswoman for the regional Planned Parenthood Health Systems office in Raleigh, found it "unbelievable" that women are still fighting for access to birth control in 2014.
"We know firsthand that access to birth control is both a health care and economic concern for women, and we will work to make sure that this benefit remains in place for the millions of women who rely on it - and to make sure that women have access to basic, preventive care no matter where they live, who they work for, or how much money they make," Reed said.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican Party, the Palmetto Family Council and the Catholic Diocese of Charleston each released statements in favor of the high court's decision.
"People do not give up their religious freedom when they open a family business," said Maria Aselage, a spokeswoman for the diocese. "They should not have to check their values and religious convictions at the door when they enter the marketplace."
Scott, R-S.C., called the ruling an "important decision that advances religious freedom."
"This decision is also another example of the Supreme Court's rebuke of the Obama Administration's continued quest to overstep their power while trampling religious freedom in our country," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce said she had no information from the group for this story.
The contraceptives at issue before the court were the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, and two intrauterine devices, or IUDs, which can cost up to $1,000.
Nearly 50 businesses have sued over covering contraceptives. Some, such as those involved in the Supreme Court case, are willing to cover most methods of contraception, as long as they can exclude drugs or devices that the government says may work after an egg has been fertilized. Other companies object to paying for any form of birth control.
There are separate lawsuits challenging the contraception provision from religiously affiliated hospitals, colleges and charities.
A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 85 percent of large American employers already had offered such coverage before the health care law required it.
It is unclear how many women potentially are affected by the high court ruling. The Hobby Lobby chain of arts and crafts stores is by far the largest employer of any company that has gone to court to fight the birth control provision.
The Oklahoma City-based company, owned by an evangelistic Christian family, has more than 15,000 full-time employees in more than 600 crafts stores in 41 states, including one store in Mount Pleasant.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.
Demonstrators react to hearing the Supreme Courtís decision on the Hobby Lobby case outside the Supreme Court in Washington Monday.×
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