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Questions and answers about Monday’s Supreme Court contraception ruling

Demonstrators confront one another outside the Supreme Court after Monday's ruling. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

The Supreme Court on Monday narrowed the contraception mandate under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Here are the basics:

What is the mandate?

The contraception mandate grew out of a provision of the health-care law that requires new insurance plans to offer free preventive care. Birth-control language is not part of the law but was included in regulations issued two years ago. The Obama administration directed that “preventive care” include all FDA-approved contraception and sterilization measures, including birth-control pills, intrauterine devices, the morning-after pill and tubal ligation.

What did the Supreme Court do?

The court sided with two companies — an arts and crafts chain owned by evangelical Christians and a woodworking company owned by Mennonites — that did not want to cover some of those birth-control methods because of religious objections.

In a 5 to 4 decision, the court found that “closely held” for-profit corporations may withhold contraception coverage that conflicts with their religious convictions as long as the convictions are sincere.

The court also found that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which limits government interference in individuals’ religious practices, applies to corporations.

What kind of contraception are we talking about?

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties did not object to all contraception or sterilization methods, only to intrauterine devices and morning-after pills commonly known as Plan B and Ella.

They disapprove of these methods because they view them as possibly harmful to a successfully fertilized egg and akin to abortion. Reproductive rights groups argue that these measures prevent pregnancy in the first place.

Even though the ruling technically applies only to the methods opposed by the two companies, experts say it was written broadly enough that it could be interpreted to apply to birth-control pills as well.

Does this mean I will no longer get free birth control through my company insurance plan?

It probably does not mean that — unless you work for Hobby Lobby or Conestoga Wood Specialties, or one of the more than 40 other companies that have filed similar complaints. Other companies might jump on the bandwagon, but a deluge is unlikely.

For one thing, the justices were specific that a company dropping this coverage had to be motivated by sincerely held religious convictions. Most companies, even if their owners are religious, are secular in their day-to-day operations.

Also, even before the law, most employers covered contraception, suggesting they do not have to be compelled to offer the benefit.


Related: What the ruling means for Obamacare.

Sandhya Somashekhar is the social change reporter for the Washington Post.

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