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Maine Delegation United: Court's Hobby Lobby Decision Raises Concerns

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation are concerned with the United States Supreme Court ruling today that family-owned corporations do not have to provide insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act.  The court ruled, 5-4, that requiring such insurance coverage violates a federal law protecting religious freedom.

The contraception coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act was challenged by two corporations. The owners of both Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a company that makes wood cabinets, say they run their businesses on religious principles and that some of the contraceptives covered under the Affordable Care Act are equivalent to methods of abortion  because they prevent embryos from implanting in the womb.

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent, says that while he has not read the court's decision, he's upset about its implications.

"I think it is disturbing because I don’t know where you draw the lines," King says. "Number one, I don’t understand how a corporation can have a religion. A corporation is an artificial person. I have never seen a corporation sitting in a pew at St. Paul’s Church in Brunswick. People sit in pews."

King says business owners can certainly have religious convictions but, he says, if they want to avail themselves of the various legal protections given to corporations, like the protection of their personal assets in lawsuits against the corporations, they must realize they are giving up give up some individual rights to get them.

"It’s a hard place to draw lines. And again I think it would have been clearer to say, if you want a small company and you want to own it personally, you can make any rules you want about what you have to buy," King wsays. "But if you avail yourself of the corporate legal protections, then you give up some of those rights."

Republican Sen. Susan Collins shares the concern that the ruling could raise far more questions than it resolves.  She says the ruling deserves careful study because it could have unintended consequences.

"If employers can start going through a list of standard benefits and saying, 'I don’t believe in blood transfusions,' which some religions do not," she says. "And I respect that belief, but does that mean that they will not cover blood transfusions for their employees?"

Particularly, she says, when the employees may be of a religion that does not object to transfusions. Collins says like so many Supreme Court decisions, this one will be subject to many interpretations.  She says Sen. King’s comment on ownership structure is one that warrants further study.

"I think Sen. King’s making an interesting distinction that does deserve further thought, on whether the manner of ownership should affect what compliance is needed.’’

Second District Congressman Mike Michaud, a Democrat, says he is disappointed by the court ruling.  In a written statement, he says the court has set a dangerous precedent that opens up the door to discrimination in the workplace under the guise of religion.

Michaud's Democratic colleague, 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, says the ruling puts the rights of corporations over the rights of women. In a written statement, Pingree says a woman has a fundamental right to make her own decisions about her health, and those decisions should not be made by a corporation’s board of directors.

All agree the courts will likely face further cases to clarify the religious exemption precedent set by this ruling.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.