Supreme Court to take up Obamacare contraception case

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

The high-stakes fight over implementing parts of the troubled health care reform law will move to the U.S. Supreme Court in coming months, in a dispute involving coverage for contraceptives and “religious liberty.”

Obamacare site going offline a few hours each dayThe justices agreed on Tuesday to review provisions in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers of a certain size to offer insurance coverage for birth control and other reproductive health services without a co-pay.

At issue is whether private companies and non-profits can refuse to do so on the claim it violates their religious beliefs.

Oral arguments will likely be held in March with a ruling by late June.

Nearly 100 pending lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging the birth control coverage benefits in the “Obamacare” law championed by President Barack Obama, which has come in for fierce political criticism over its rocky public introduction.

The high court last year narrowly upheld the key funding provision of the health care law, a blockbuster ruling affirming that most Americans would be required to purchase insurance or pay a financial penalty — the so-called “individual mandate.”

The constitutional debate now shifts to the separate employer mandates and whether corporations and religious institutions themselves enjoy the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

Three federal appeals courts around the country have struck down the contraception coverage rule, while two other appeals courts have upheld it. That “circuit split” made a Supreme Court review more likely.

Among the plaintiffs is Hobby Lobby, Inc. a nationwide chain of about 500 for-profit arts and crafts stores.

David Green and his family are the owners, and say their Christian beliefs clash with parts of the law’s mandates for comprehensive coverage.

They say some of the drugs that would be provided prevent human embryos from being implanted in a woman’s womb, which the Greens equate to abortion.

The privately held company does not object to funding other forms of contraception — such as condoms and diaphragms — for their roughly 13,000 employees, which Hobby Lobby says represent a variety of faiths.

Companies that refuse to provide the coverage could be fined up to $1.3 million daily.

The Obama administration has been defending the law and federal officials say they have already created rules exempting certain nonprofits and religiously affiliated organizations from the contraceptives requirements. In those cases, women would receive coverage from another company at no cost.

The law’s supporters say the law does not require individual company owners to personally provide coverage they might object, but instead places that responsibility on the corporate entity.

A key issue for the justices will be interpreting the 1993 federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Can companies, churches, and universities be included, or do the protections apply only to “persons?”

The botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, the federal Obamacare website, has become a political flashpoint along with other issues that Republicans say proves the law is unworkable.

The pending cases are Liberty University v. Lew (13-306); Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (13-354); Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius (13-356); and Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius (13-482).

TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

5 comments

  • Diane

    The media has been telling us that once the Healthcare.gov was up and running that the public would see how wonderful Obamacare was. What is going to come out is all the legal and constituional malfunctions that are intertwined with bad legislation.

    If you like your plan ……get to keep it. Period !

    That doesn't mean if you don't like Sen. Durbin you have to keep him. The Senator has failed both the state and its citizens too long. Can anyone remember what Dick Durbin said about what was in the legislation for healthcare. He never knew but voted for it anyway. He's part of the problem in Washington.

  • NO Jesus People

    Again, a bunch of dumb christ people trying to influence law to make others be like them. Sooooo glad to see that these days are numbered and people are (excuse the pun) beginning to see the light.

  • Sad World

    The Hobby Lobby owners should let their employees choose if they want coverage for birth control. I doubt every single employee there shares the exact same belief…I would be extremely angry if my employer was deciding what I could and could not do in regards to contraception.

  • Nic Driver

    Justice SCALIA wrote a SCOTUS opinion that said, in part;

    "Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities."

    In effect the SCOTUS has already ruled that an individual, when operating in the public sphere. has an obligation to the law, not-withstanding his personal religious beliefs, provided the law does not promote or restrict his religious beliefs.

    Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith
    (No. 88-1213)

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