U.S. SC to hear arguments in contraceptive mandate cases

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Nov 26, 2013

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments from two companies that say they should be able to claim religious exemptions from the federal health care law's contraceptive mandate.

The court granted petitions for writs of certiorari in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, according to an order list Tuesday.

The court said the two cases will be consolidated and a total of one hour is allotted for oral argument. It did not set a hearing date.

The contraception coverage mandate, which was imposed under President Barack Obama's health care law, requires employers to offer insurance -- including contraception coverage -- or they may be fined.

Last month, a group of state attorneys general filed an amicus brief in the nation's high court, urging it to hear Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and asking it to overturn a federal appeals court's ruling that would allow the for-profit corporation to avoid full compliance with the law.

"Access to contraceptive services is critical to the health of women and infants; women's economic and social well being; and women's opportunities to participate fully in society," the brief stated.

The brief also argued that the lower court's decision could interfere with enforcement of other important regulations that protect public safety, civil rights, social welfare, housing, employment and public health.

"The freedom of individuals to exercise the religion of their choosing is one of the most important values in our society, as reflected by its enshrinement in the federal Constitution. The federal government's contraceptive coverage regulations under (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) respect that freedom through inclusion of appropriate exemptions, while also advancing the similarly compelling interests in public health and gender equality in access to health care," the brief stated.

"The court of appeals' decision would upset that balance and threaten far-reaching impacts on the states beyond the issues presented by this action."

The Obama administration, which petitioned the court in September, is asking it to decide that for-profit corporations cannot deny their employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation's owners.

Hobby Lobby, which also wanted the court to take up its case, argues the case raises important questions about who can enjoy religious freedom.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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