Birth Control Supreme Court Decision
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) The Supreme Court has accepted another case challenging elements of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. The Associated Press reported late Tuesday evening that the justices will hear two cases challenging the law's contraception mandate, a provision requiring that all health care plans pay for several forms of birth control to qualifying women.
Over 40 separate businesses have sued to challenge this requirement, claiming that it violates their religious freedom. The Court will hear cases filed by Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby and Pennsylvania corporation Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. Both companies claim that they should not be forced to pay, even indirectly, for forms of contraception to which they object on religious grounds.
Hobby Lobby won its arguments in the lower federal courts while Conestoga lost, although both companies raise substantively similar issues. Both cases will be combined into one for the sake of arguments, which will take place in several months. A decision is unlikely until June, particularly given the Roberts court's practice of releasing controversial decisions shortly before leaving on recess.
The Supreme Court laid the foundation for these arguments in 2010 with its Citizens United decision. The majority in that case found that corporations are entitled to First Amendment rights of free speech and association. Supporters of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga argue that Citizens United means that corporations are entitled to all rights under the First Amendment including freedom of religion.
This is not a foregone conclusion. The court may choose to apply only parts of the First Amendment to for-profit corporations. Even if it finds in favor of the plaintiffs on the First Amendment, it will have to balance that result against the interests of the Hobby Lobby and Conestogas employees, who have the right to the protection of neutrally applied laws.
The Obama Administration has already exempted the contraception mandate on faith-based grounds. This case raises only the question of whether for-profit companies can claim religious beliefs not related to their business.
Although several companies challenging the contraception mandate object to providing any form of contraception at all, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga have objected only to certain forms including Plan B and certain intrauterine devices. The Court has not yet announced its intentions regarding challenges to the contraception mandate in its entirety.
In an unrelated case, the Supreme Court also issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the contraception mandate against religiously affiliated organizations Tuesday night shortly before midnight. The emergency order was issued by Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the request of the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged in Denver. As a religiously affiliated, rather than faith-based, organization the Little Sisters would be required not to provide birth control directly but to buy insurance. The Court's order has prevented enforcement of that provision and will remain in place until either the Court removes it or issues a permanent ruling on the matter.