PPACA Contraceptive Coverage Challenge

On Tuesday, November 26, 2013, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to review portions of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act requiring employers of a certain size to offer insurance coverage for birth control and other reproductive health services without a co-pay.  In enacting the Affordable Care Act, Congress required large employers who offered health care services to provide a range of preventative care, including no-copay contraceptive services.  However, religious nonprofits were exempted from this requirement, but not for-profit corporations. (NPR) The case will present the issue of whether private companies can refuse to provide coverage for birth control and contraceptives on the basis that it violates their religious beliefs. (CNN)  The case will be heard in the country’s highest court as a result of approximately 50 pending lawsuits filed in federal court by a variety of corporations challenging the coverage benefits under “Obamacare.”  (CNN)

This case will be the first challenge to reach the Supreme Court since it upheld the Affordable Care Act 17 months ago in a 5-4 decision written by the Chief Justice.  (National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius)  Beyond that milestone, the recent challenge is significant because it will answer a question with far-reaching consequences — can corporations pray? (USA Today) Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City corporation, believes the answer is yes.  In fact, the company closes on Sundays, funnels millions of dollars in profits to ministries, does not sell shot glasses in order to avoid the appearance of promoting alcohol, and does not provide insurance coverage for drugs or devices which it claims are capable of terminating a pregnancy.  (Hobby Lobby Website)

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Hobby Lobby. It said that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects corporations the same way it protects individuals, ruling that “the contraceptive-coverage requirement substantially burdens Hobby Lobby’s rights under” the law.  (FOX News) The Obama Administration, in its Supreme Court brief, argued that the 10th Circuit was incorrect, and that if the ruling were allowed to stand, it would make the law “a sword used to deny employees of for-profit commercial enterprises the benefits and protections of generally applicable laws.” (FOX News) Furthermore, the Administration and Justice Department point to a long line of Supreme Court cases that have not found a for-profit company to be a religious organization for purposes of federal law. (NPR)

Women’s rights advocates, such as Planned Parenthood, released statements in light of the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari, expressing that if the Court were to rule in favor of for-profit corporations, that the decision would “create a very slippery slope, giving for-profit employers their own right to impose medical preferences on their employees.” (Planned Parenthood)

All of these views, and more, will undoubtedly be on display when the Court hears the oral arguments that will likely be held in March, with a ruling by late June 2014.  (Politico) Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision, the nation will be paying attention because the decision is not only important in the context of the Affordable Care Act, but will also answer the question of whether these companies can assert religious freedoms, which will have importance for decades and centuries to come.  (US News)


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