Texas conservatives hailed the Supreme Court’s ruling on contraceptive insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act as a victory for religious liberty, while reproductive-rights activists decried it as an invitation for employers to interfere with women’s access to birth control.
“Today’s decision is further proof that Obamacare represents one of the greatest governmental overreaches in our nation’s history,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement.
Under the Affordable Care Act, there is already an exception for religious nonprofits, which can certify that they object to providing contraception coverage, which forces their insurers or the government to pay for it. According to Monday’s majority opinion, the government could ensure coverage by extending that system to for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby whose owners have religious objections to some kinds of contraception.
But that scheme is itself the subject of legal challenges that will probably reach the Supreme Court next year, said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, which advocates for less restrictive abortion laws in the state.
“We’re deeply disappointed and troubled that some bosses will be able to interfere with their employees’ access to birth control,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez also reacted to a tweet by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, that called the ruling “a great day for religious freedom & protecting life.”
“Today Greg Abbott celebrates a ruling that will allow some bosses to deny women birth control coverage. It’s unbelievable that we are still fighting for access to birth control in 2014,” Gutierrez said. “And simply preposterous that Greg Abbott would state that limiting access to birth control is ‘protecting life.’
“Texas women have already suffered numerous clinic closures and loss of access to basic care, including birth control. But Greg Abbott wants to see their access to healthcare limited even more.”
Abbott’s opponent in the race for Texas governor also criticized the ruling.
“Today’s disappointing decision to restrict access to birth control puts employers between women and their doctors,” state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said. “We need to trust women to make their own healthcare decisions — not corporations, the Supreme Court, or Greg Abbott.”
Other Texas Republicans praised the ruling as a victory for religious freedom and against the Obama administration.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, in a statement, called the decision “a landmark victory for religious liberty,” while warning that the “right to religious liberty, as enshrined in the First Amendment, remains under an incredible assault by this Administration on a variety of fronts.”
Local religious leaders
Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders in North Texas hailed the ruling.
“I join Catholics and men and women of all faiths in applauding the decision as a step in the right direction,” said Bishop Michael Olson of the 28-county Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. “Let us work ever harder to promote a society that respects both the basic human right of religious liberty as well as the right to basic healthcare for the sake of human dignity.’’
Olson said that while the decision “applied only to the rights of closely held corporations and their right to religious liberty … the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth is hopeful that future court decisions will enable Catholic organizations such as schools and charities to prevail in their objections to a ‘so-called accommodation.’ ’’
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, said in an email that the decision “is a matter of great relief and gratitude to God for all those who value religious liberty.”
“As we have watched the erosion of this cherished principle across the last 25 years, we have been sorrowful to observe this slippage in our Republic. This is not a time to gloat, but a time to be grateful to God,’’ Patterson said.
The Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, called the decision “a great victory for religious freedom in our country.’’
However, Jeffress said, religious freedom advocates must be vigilant.
“The victory today was real, but I believe it will be short-lived,” he said. “It was a very narrow decision. It would take only one Supreme Court justice change to overturn that decision.”
“Make no mistake, this case was not about contraception,” Jeffress said. “Hobby Lobby offered 16 of the 20 contraceptives that Obamacare required them to offer. The only ones they would not offer were those abortion-inducing drugs that their religious faith prohibited them from providing.”
What the Obama administration was saying in their court arguments, Jeffress said, was that “it’s fine to be pro-life in your church or synagogue on weekends but when you go to work on Monday, you have to become pro-abortion and give up your religious beliefs.”
Also praising the Supreme Court ruling was the Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington.
“I am thrilled with this decision,” McKissic said. “It is consistent with the Constitution as I interpret and understand it. It reminds us that we are ‘one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.’ Thank God that Hobby Lobby was willing to stand up for their convictions. I say ‘Thank you’ to Hobby Lobby for the protection of unborn children of all colors.”
Correspondent Jim Jones contributed to this report, which includes material from The Texas Tribune.