The Supreme Court ruled today that the government cannot require "closely held" businesses—businesses that are not publically traded—to provide employees with birth control, if it conflicts with the business' religious beliefs.
The case began last year when Hobby Lobby and another family-run business, Conestoga Wood Specialties, challenged the government-mandated requirement that they provide birth control, such as the morning after pill to their employees. They argued that this mandate conflicted with the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The court agreed.
As long as it's been available, birth control has been popular among American citizens. Today the majority, in fact, believe that Hobby Lobby and other family-owned businesses should be obligated to provide contraception to employees.
But the law has never been quite as quick to embrace birth control. Here are some highlights of contraception's legal history in America:
- 1873: With the Comstock laws, Congress regulated the movement of "Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use" through the mail. Information on birth cotnrol was considered "obscene."
- 1916: The first birth control clinic opens, but its founder, Margaret Sanger, is soon sent to jail for "maintaining a public nuisance."
- 1955: Scientists were homing in on a formula for an oral birth control pill, but given America's "strong legal, cultural and religious opposition," some states still had laws on the books restricting the use of contraceptions. So the reserachers chose to conduct clinical trials in Puerto Rico to birth control. Trials also soon took place in Haiti and Mexico.
- 1959: President Dwight Eisenhower declares that birth control is "not our business" and does not fall into the realm of government responsibility.
- 1970: Congress finally removes birth control references from anti-obscenity laws and, two years later, the Supreme Court legalizes all forms of contraception, including the pill .
Today's Hobby Lobby decision doesn't necessarily mean that the federal government is finished ensuring that women have access to birth control. It does mean, though, that the federal government would have to cover those costs when employers have a religious reason not to.