American Law Has Never Been Comfortable With Birth Control

Americans might support and use birth control, but the Hobby Lobby decision did not

Whether or not a woman's health insurance will cover the emergency pill now depends in some cases on her employer's religious beliefs Photo: Ivan Alvarado/epa/Corbis

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:

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.

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