The US Supreme Court has today ruled that "closely held" corporations (i.e. companies whose shares are held by a small number of shareholders, or mostly by one individual) can refuse on religious grounds to pay for healthcare plans that include contraception coverage.

The court delivered a 5-4 majority ruling in Burwell v Hobby Lobby, a case which arose from an objection by the management of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts company founded by the evangelical Christian billionaire David Green, to a clause in the Affordable Care Act (better-known as "Obamacare") that requires that company health insurance plans cover the cost of certain kinds of contraception.

Hobby Lobby began its challenge to the rule in 2012, arguing that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act gives it the right to refuse to pay for contraception cover on religious grounds. Today's ruling by the Supreme Court upholds that right.

As well as being a blow to reproductive rights, the ruling is highly significant because it gives corporations the right to religious exercise, i.e. it implies that corporations, and not just individuals, have religious rights, and thus the right to cite religious objections in refusing to provide services or meet certain requirements. It has been argued that the ruling could be used by companies as a basis for challenging anti-discrimination legislation, or for refusing to provide other services due to religious objections.