Contraception mandate decision stirs Georgia politics

“This shows once again that Obamacare is unworkable,” U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, who is running for the Senate, declared at an event in Marietta just after the decision was announced. “It’s a massive centralized overreach of the federal government to the private sector, and this shows how that micromanagement of the private sector is not a good idea.

“And this exemption is going to lead to more court cases and more chaos in the marketplace. The big picture here is we need to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

Within hours, Kingston’s Republican runoff foe, David Perdue, and Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Michelle Nunn had chimed in on opposing sides.

The court found that requiring some religious for-profit companies to provide contraception — including the “morning after pill” — as part of their insurance coverage infringed on their religious freedom. The federal government, which has accommodated nonprofit religious organizations, still is likely to offer such coverage to affected women by other means.

Obamacare, abortion and the rights of corporations combined to make Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. a political powder keg.

“I disagree with the Court’s decision,” Nunn said in an emailed statement. “While I support exemptions that ensure religious institutions and churches aren’t forced to act outside their beliefs, I believe medical decisions and treatment options should be left up to an individual and his or her doctor — not restricted by employers or government.”

Nunn has been cautious on Obamacare, saying that she would support changes to the law such as delaying the requirement that all individuals buy insurance, but she does think the law should remain. She supports abortion rights, and Emily’s List, a Washington-based group that supports female candidates who favor abortion rights, had bundled $87,000 in donations for Nunn as of April.

Both candidates in the July 22 runoff for the GOP’s Senate nomination are anti-abortion. Perdue, the former Dollar General CEO, agreed that the 5-4 decision was a good thing — but he worked in a dig on Kingston, an 11-term member of the House.

“I’m encouraged that the Court did its part by reining in the increasingly overreaching Obama Administration,” Perdue said in an emailed statement.

“This decision affirms the simple premise that more government means less freedom. However, we cannot expect the judiciary alone to stop Obamacare and bad regulations. We need stronger leadership from the legislative branch, and that has been sorely lacking from the typical establishment politicians.”

The state of Georgia was among those siding with Hobby Lobby, as Attorney General Sam Olens signed onto an amicus brief with 19 other states.

“I applaud the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding this bedrock freedom,” Olens said in a statement.

Meanwhile, 91 U.S. House Democrats signed a brief supporting the Obama administration — including Georgia’s Hank Johnson and John Lewis. Johnson compared Monday’s decision to the court’s 2010 Citizens United decision on campaign finance, saying it was troubling but not surprising.

“Regardless of how the court tries to justify its recognition of a First Amendment right to corporations, it has taken another step through the door that it opened up with the Citizens United decision granting a First Amendment freedom of speech right to a corporation,” Johnson said.

Julian Bond, the former head of the NAACP and a civil rights-era fixture in Atlanta, joined another brief siding with the government because he saw echoes of racial discrimination in Hobby Lobby’s arguments.

“If your religious beliefs said you could discriminate against black people, that was OK,” Bond said, recalling the debates of decades ago. “This seemed to me just a continuation of that. … It just seemed to be wrong to me, and it’s still wrong no matter what the Supreme Court says.”

Alito’s opinion said the ruling is limited to contraception, providing no “shield” to corporate racial discrimination.

It’s unclear how many Georgians would be affected. Lorie Maring, an attorney in the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips, a labor and employment firm representing employers, said, “As a practical matter, this is a pretty narrow impact.”

The fact that a company would have to be closely held narrows the field, but not much. About 90 percent of companies are closely held, and most are family-owned, employing about half the labor force. The Internal Revenue Service defines as closely held a business with more than half the value of its outstanding stock owned by five or fewer people.

But many of the those businesses are small and don’t even offer health insurance to their employees. If they don’t, the employees either seek coverage through public exchanges, where contraception is covered, or go without insurance.

If an employer does offer coverage, it still has to be willing to state publicly that it is denying coverage for religious reasons. Some companies might not.

Dan Cathy, the president of the family-owned fast-food chain Chik-fil-A, has been outspoken about his Christian views, but the Atlanta-based company declined to comment on Monday’s ruling.

Even employees whose employer does not cover the types of contraception included in the ruling might still be able to obtain them through insurance.

Churches and religious nonprofits are not required to comply with the contraception rule and can turn coverage over to private insurers who must provide it at no cost to the employee. That policy could be applied to closely held corporations, though it is now under legal challenge in the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Staff writers Greg Bluestein, David Markiewicz and Leon Stafford contributed to this article.

X