Post , November 26, 2013
Court to review contraceptive coverage mandate in health-care
Court agreed Tuesday to consider a new challenge to President
Obamas Affordable Care Act and decide whether employers
with religious objections may refuse to provide their workers
with mandated insurance coverage for contraceptives.
accepted by the court offer complex questions about religious
freedom and equality for female workers, along with an issue the
court has not yet confronted: whether secular, for-profit corporations
are excepted by the Constitution or federal statute from complying
with a law because of their owners religious beliefs.
accepted two cases that produced opposite results in lower courts.
One was brought
by the owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain that its
owner, David Green, said is run on biblical principles. The full
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver said forcing
the company to comply with the contraceptive mandate would violate
the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law providing special
protections for religious expression.
In a divided
opinion, the appeals court relied in part on the Supreme Courts
decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which
said corporations have political speech rights just as individuals
do in spending on elections.
no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection
for a corporations political expression but not its religious
expression, Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote for the majority.
case went the other way. A divided panel of the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia ruled that Conestoga
Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinet-making company owned
by a Mennonite family, must comply with the contraceptive mandate.
noted the 10th Circuits opinion but said that there was
a total absence of case law to support the argument
that corporations are protected by the Constitutions guarantee
of free exercise of religion.
if we were to disregard the lack of historical recognition of
the right, we simply cannot understand how a for-profit, secular
corporation apart from its owners can exercise religion,
Circuit Judge Robert E. Cowen wrote.
freedom act prohibits the federal government from imposing a substantial
burden on a persons exercise of religion unless there
is a compelling governmental interest and the measure
is the least-restrictive method of achieving the interest.
said the cases will be consolidated for oral argument, which is
likely to be in March.
In a dramatic
5 to 4 decision in June 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the basic
underpinnings of what has come to be called Obamacare, which requires
most Americans to obtain health insurance coverage or pay a penalty.
of a certain size are required to offer coverage or be fined,
and the Obama administration has said that among the basic benefits
that must be offered is the full range of birth-control options
approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
exempted some religious groups from the requirement but has said
that for-profit corporations cannot claim a religious exception.
In a statement,
White House press secretary Jay Carney said: We believe
this requirement is lawful and essential to womens health
and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.
birth-control decisions should be up to a woman and her doctor.
The President believes that no one, including the government
or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions
Murray (D-Wash.) said the issue is one of equality.
a womans boss to call the shots about her access to birth
control should be inconceivable to all Americans in this day and
age, she said in a statement, adding: That is a slippery
slope that could lead to bosses dictating everything from an employees
ability to access HIV treatment to their ability to vaccinate
On the Republican
side, House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) called the requirement
an attack on religious freedom, and Im hopeful it
will be reversed by the Court.
Hatch (R-Utah) said: Ive long argued that Obamacare
violated the religious liberty protections Americans hold dear,
regardless of political party.
The two cases
the court accepted have some differences. But Matt Bowman of the
Alliance Defending Freedom, who represents Conestoga owner Anthony
Hahn and his family, said both involve families putting
their faith in the context of business.
has grown from a single store opened in Oklahoma City in 1972
to more than 500 stores nationally and a workforce of 13,000 people
of all faiths. In its brief, the company said it shows its religious
foundation by such actions as closing on Sunday and refusing to
sell shot glasses.
is a closely held family corporation that employs 950 and specializes
of owners say they are comfortable offering insurance plans that
cover most types of contraceptives, but not what they consider
abortifacients. Conestoga objects to offering the
emergency contraceptives Plan B and Ella. Hobby Lobby adds intrauterine
devices (IUDs) to that list. (The court took no action on a petition
from a Michigan company that does not want to cover any contraceptives.)
That has set
off a debate among groups about what exactly the contraceptives
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said abortifacient
has a precise meaning. Contraceptives that prevent fertilization
from occurring, or even prevent implantation [of a fertilized
egg] are simply not abortifacients regardless of an individuals
personal or religious beliefs or mores, it said in a brief.
But a competing
brief from anti-abortion obstetricians and gynecologists and the
Catholic Medical Association takes issue. This is a nonresponse
to the concern that a drug or device can work after fertilization,
by blocking the implantation of a developing human embryo,
it said. Such drugs might not end a pregnancy
.?.?. but it does end the life of a unique human being.
are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties
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