Supreme Court to hear case over Obamacare’s contraception mandate

The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear a case over Obamacare’s contraception mandate, a requirement on employers to provide health plans that cover emergency birth control, and its implications on religious liberty.

Hobby Lobby Stores, a craft chain with 578 stores and more than 13,000 employees, filed a lawsuit against the contraception mandate in September 2012, claiming that it violated the religious liberty of the owner and founder of the company, David Green, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).

Filings in the case — Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores — explain that Green runs his business “with religious principles in mind” and points to the company’s mission statement, which commits to “[h]onoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

The contraceptive mandate would include coverage for the morning after pill, Plan B and Ella, which Green believes is tantamount to abortion. Hobby Lobby claims that it could face fines of $475 million each year for non-compliance.

“If Hobby Lobby instead drops employee insurance altogether, it will face severe disruption to its business, significant competitive disadvantages in hiring and retaining employees, as well as penalties totaling $26 million per year,” said the brief filed by the company.

The Obama Administration has exempted some religious organizations, including churches and schools, from the mandate. But businesses are still being forced to offer plans that cover birth control, even if it violates the beliefs on which they were founded.

The question is whether the RFRA, which protects individuals from freely exercising their religion, applies to businesses and corporations because of the objections of the owners. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that Hobby Lobby had standing to challenge the mandate on RFRA grounds, though, the court denied an injunction request.

The White House issued a statement on the case expressing confidence that the Supreme Court would back the administration’s view.

“Earlier this year, the Obama Administration asked the Supreme Court to consider a legal challenge to the health care law’s requirement that for-profit corporations include birth control coverage in insurance available to their employees,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. “We believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women’s health and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.”

Mardel, a Christian bookstore, is also a respondent in the case. The court also agreed to take another case, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, which deals with the same issue. No date has been set for oral arguments.

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