Supreme Ct. to Hear Obamacare Contraception Case

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on November 26, 2013 10:45 AM

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal challenging Obamacare's contraceptive mandate based on a corporation's asserted right to the free exercise of religion.

With nearly 100 lawsuits filed challenging this mandate in federal court, the High Court's decision to take this case -- stemming from a suit by craft store Hobby Lobby -- may serve to answer whether Obamacare's contraceptive mandate is enforceable against businesses, CNN reports.

But will the Court also answer whether a corporation can have religious freedom?

Hobby Lobby Challenges Contraceptive Mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 upheld the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, which requires that all Americans have a basic level of health insurance by January 1, 2014, or face a penalty.

Included in that "basic level" of health care is the requirement that all Obamacare-compliant health insurance must provide coverage for birth control and other reproductive health services (e.g., a pap smear) without a co-pay. Many employers were also mandated to provide their full-time employees with this basic level of health coverage, even though the enforcement of this employer mandate was pushed back to 2015.

Hobby Lobby was one corporation that, because of the Obamacare mandate, was facing the choice between offering contraception coverage or not offering health insurance at all. On the strength of the company's owners' strong religious beliefs against contraception and abortion, Hobby Lobby challenged the mandate in federal court -- and won.

Now the federal government has appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which decided to hear the case by granting a writ of certiorari.

Religious Freedom for Corporations

One reason the High Court decided to take this case is that it will settle the legal status of the contraceptive mandate nationwide. Several federal appeals courts have decided this issue differently, with an unsettled question of whether corporations have the right to refuse Obamacare's mandate on religious grounds.

Hobby Lobby prevailed in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by arguing that both the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by arguing that these rights and protections extend to corporations as well as natural persons.

This legal jump was made possible by the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, which granted corporations First Amendment freedom of speech rights, historically reserved only for people.

It is now in the Supreme Court's hands to determine whether corporations will be able to refuse Obamacare's contraceptive mandate on religious grounds. And in the process, the High Court may extend yet another constitutional right to corporations.

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