Juanita Sprenkle Jones was surprised when she heard the Supreme Court's Monday decision that allows — for the first time — for-profit businesses to hold religious views under federal law.

The York City resident said she's been active in the women's rights movement since the 1970s and the ruling is a "huge step backward."

"It's very scary for those of us who have worked in the field for a long time," Jones said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge.

The 5-4 decision will allow family-owned corporations that hold religious objections to opt out of providing free contraception to women who are covered under the companies' health insurance plans.

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"I am stunned that a corporation has the same rights as an individual when there are so many, many ways that a corporation and people are different," she said.

She said the ruling shows there is "clearly a war against women" because it attacks their reproductive rights.

"I feel indignant," Jones said. "I think it's outrageous that they should so clearly uphold a corporation at the expense of individuals."

Barriers: The Supreme Court's decision was a letdown for Kathleen Rauhauser, a member and past president of the York chapter of the National Organization for Women.


"I was disappointed," she said. "However, I thought there were a lot of restrictions" on which companies could refuse coverage.

The court said its ruling applies only to corporations that are under the control of just a few people, and it addresses only contraceptives under the health care law.

Women who are wealthy will always be able to find and pay for a way, but more vulnerable women will be limited in their care, Rauhauser said.

"And that's why I think it's important to continue trying to break down this barrier for them, for their equality," the York City resident said.

Support: U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., applauded the Supreme Court decision, calling it "a win for religious liberty."

"It is great news that the Supreme Court has ruled that closely held, for-profit businesses are entitled to religious protections and exempt from the Obamacare mandate," he said in a statement.

Toomey also congratulated Lancaster County-based Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., which is owned by a Mennonite family and employs about 950 people. The business went to court to fight the mandate.

"I am grateful for Conestoga Wood Specialties' leadership in challenging this ill-conceived mandate," Toomey said. "I congratulate them on the success and the relief this Supreme Court decision will bring for many closely held corporations that choose to follow their religious beliefs."

Health care: For Jenny Englerth, CEO of Family First Health in York City, the ruling seems discouraging from a health-care standpoint.

As a primary care provider, Family First recognizes the need for access to low-cost methods of pregnancy prevention and overall health-improvement medications, she said.

"To see this in such a narrow context shortchanges women and shortchanges the provider because it limits the tools they have to provide comprehensive care to women," Englerth said.

Although she said she understands the intent of the court, she said access to preventative care is the right thing to do for the health of women, children and families.

"Ultimately, I think that women will seek workplaces, when possible, that are going to be looking at their best interests," Englerth said.

The law: The ruling only targets contraception and not other procedures, such as fertility treatments or Viagra prescriptions.

And other religious beliefs — such as Jehovah's Witnesses' tenet that taking blood transfusions is a grave sin — haven't been addressed, said Rory Kraft, a philosophy professor at York College who teaches medical ethics.

"I just don't understand how they can defend the narrowness," he said.

Kraft said he expects the ruling to open the gate for more religious corporations and individuals to test that boundary, but he doesn't believe it will affect many corporations.

"I can't imagine there's more than a dozen companies in the country it applies to," he said.

Kraft said he's been following the case but didn't expect this outcome.

"I was surprised," he said. "I really didn't see this one coming down the way it did. The arguments didn't sound too strong to me, but it's the law now."

— The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.