Can a company deliberately exclude health insurance coverage of the morning after pill for its employees, in the name of freedom of religion?
That’s a question the US Supreme Court could take up on Tuesday when it decides whether to hear a case pitting a chain of craft stores against President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
The Obama administration is challenging the refusal of Hobby Lobby Stores to underwrite coverage for certain contraceptive methods.
The family-owned chain based in Oklahoma says it manages its business “in a manner consistent with biblical principles.”
“We believe that it is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured. He has been faithful in the past, and we trust Him for our future,” it says on its website.
Joined by the religious bookstore Mardel, Hobby Lobby has refused to abide by the new health care law’s requirement that it provide health insurance coverage for four methods of contraception (two abortive pills and two types of IUDs), or pay a fine.
The chain has not challenged other methods agreed to by the federal government — contraceptive pills, diaphragms and other barrier methods — but it objects to the four specific methods on grounds they are comparable to abortion.
In a brief filed with the court, the company argued that “by providing insurance coverage for contraceptives that could prevent a human embryo from implanting in the uterus, they themselves would be morally complicit in ‘the death of [an] embryo.’?
A federal appeals court agreed, ruling that the legal requirement was counter to the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The Obama health care law exempted churches and other religious organizations from having to provide coverage for birth control.
But the government argued that “no court has ever found a for-profit company to be a religious organization for purposes of federal law.
The court of appeals erred by deeming the respondent corporations to be ‘persons’ engaged in the ‘exercise of religions’ within the meaning of RFRA,” Solicitor General Donald Verrilli contended.
If the top US court takes up the case, it will be its first major decision on Obama’s health care law since it upheld the reform’s constitutionality in June 2012.
It would also force the court to review its controversial 2010 “Citizens United v FEC” decision, which concluded that companies have a right to freedom of expression under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
That decision allowed companies to provide candidates with unlimited campaign financing.
The Supreme Court would have to decide whether that decision also meant a company has a right to religious freedom.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]