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Contraceptive Coverage Cases Among Most-Anticipated of Supreme Court Term

Contraceptive Coverage Cases Among Most-Anticipated of Supreme Court Term

March 20, 2014 — The Supreme Court next week will hear oral arguments in a challenge to the federal contraceptive coverage rules that has become one of the most-watched cases before the justices this term, USA Today reports.

Although this year's Supreme Court cases have "lacked the drama" of the 2012 challenge to the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) or last year's same-sex marriage cases, the intersection of "God, money, power, sex -- and Obamacare" in the contraceptive coverage cases has sparked the attention of court-watchers, according to USA Today (Wolf, USA Today, 3/20).

The contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the ACA, require most for-profit, private businesses to offer contraceptive coverage in their employer-sponsored health plans. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, and religiously affiliated not-for-profits are eligible for an accommodation that ensures they do not have to pay for or directly provide the coverage to their employees (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/12).

The case before the high court involves two corporations: Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts retail chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet maker. The owners of both companies object to offering contraceptive coverage to their employees because the owners oppose the use of intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptives, which they claim are tantamount to abortifacients.

Key Issues

USA Today outlines several issues at stake in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases, which will be argued together.

The "central focus" of the cases will "be on the sweep of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [PL 103-141], as well as the First Amendment's protection of religious exercise," according to USA Today. The corporations argue that RFRA should shield the companies from having to comply with the contraceptive coverage rules, while supporters of the rules argue that permitting such an exemption would pave the wave for businesses to deny other forms of health care, such as vaccines.

National Women's Law Center Co-President Marcia Greenberger noted that RFRA "was never meant to trump all of the civil rights and the health protections that Americans have in this country."

However, Michael McConnell, a law professor at Stanford University and former federal appeals court judge, called the contraceptive coverage rules "a conscience harm," adding that there are "potential implications for a very wide range of free exercise claims."

The cases also involve whether for-profit corporations "enjoy the same rights as people to exercise religious beliefs," USA Today reports.

Mark Rienzi -- an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the law firm that is representing Hobby Lobby -- argued that companies can practice religion, saying, "We see companies act on ethical and philosophical and moral views every day of the week."

By contrast, Caroline Mala Corbin, a law professor at the University of Miami, said, "For-profit corporations do not and should not have religious rights," adding, "They have no soul, and they certainly don't have a relationship with God."

The cases have also spotlighted religious beliefs about how certain contraceptives work. For example, Anna Franzonello, counsel for the antiabortion-rights group Americans United for Life, said that certain forms of contraception, such as IUDs and EC, "have life-ending effects."

This assertion goes against the medical consensus. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists CEO Hal Lawrence said, "This is contraception, not abortion," adding, "The scientific facts are important" (USA Today, 3/20).