Supreme Court To Consider Contraception Mandate Questions

The justices will hear arguments in the new year in two cases challenging whether religious freedoms extend to corporations or corporate owners.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will be hearing a pair of cases from businesses challenging the government mandate that companies’ insurance policies include coverage for contraception.

The cases, brought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, feature similar questions about the rights of for-profit corporations or their owners to sue under laws aimed at protecting religious freedom but present lower-court decisions that reached differing conclusions.

The companies have challenged the regulations put in place by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius under the Affordable Care Act that mandate contraception coverage be included in certain companies’ employee health insurance plans.

In the Conestoga Wood case, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals held that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise,” preventing the court from considering whether the contraception mandate violated either the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, decided otherwise, concluding that Hobby Lobby and a related company “are entitled to bring claims under RFRA.”

The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to hear and reverse the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, and Conestoga Wood asked the court to hear and reverse the decision in its case.

The court accepted both cases and announced it will hear a total of one hour of oral arguments when it hears the cases together, likely in March 2014. A decision will be expected by June 2014.

Update: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued the following statement regarding the Hobby Lobby case:

The health care law puts women and families in control of their health care by covering vital preventive care, like cancer screenings and birth control, free of charge. 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. We believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women’s health and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.

We do not comment on specifics of a case pending before the Court. As a general matter, our policy is designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between 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 to women. The Administration has already acted to ensure no church or similar religious institution will be forced to provide contraception coverage and has made a commonsense accommodation for non-profit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds. These steps protect both women’s health and religious beliefs, and seek to ensure that women and families—not their bosses or corporate CEOs—can make personal health decisions based on their needs and their budgets.

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