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Supreme Court To Consider Employers’ Arguments Regarding Contraceptive Mandate

The United States Supreme Court will revisit the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) requirement that most employers provide contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance plans. On November 26, 2013, the Court accepted two cases which center on the issue, each of which resulted in a different outcome. The ACA currently provides an exemption to certain non-profit religious organizations, but there is no such exemption for private employers.

The Supreme Court will now consider whether private companies should be able to refuse to provide employees with contraception coverage under their health plans on the basis of religion. Further, the Supreme Court may consider whether for-profit corporations may validly claim protection under freedom of religion.

In Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.[1], the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that a requirement which forced Hobby Lobby to comply with the contraception coverage mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects religious freedom. Hobby Lobby is owned by David and Barbara Green, who have stated that they strive to run their company in accordance with their Christian beliefs. The Greens have no objection to preventive contraception, but only medication which may prevent human embryos from being implanted in the womb (i.e., “the morning-after pill”).

The 10th Circuit Appeals Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby based upon its  decision in a previous case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission[2], which held that corporations hold political speech rights akin to individuals. Taking this reasoning further, if a corporation can have political speech rights, then it should also have protection for its religious expression, according to the Court.

In Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius[3], the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit viewed the issue differently. The Court upheld the contraception coverage mandate based upon what it perceived as a “total absence of case law” to support any argument that corporations are guaranteed religious protection.

According to the ACA, contraceptive coverage provided by employers’ group health insurance plans is “lawful and essential” to women’s health; however, certain businesses assert that their religious liberty is more important. Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court will cast the deciding vote.

[1] Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 723 F.3d 1114 (10th Cir. 2013).

[2] Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010).

[3] Conestoga Woods Specialties v. Sebelius, 724 F.3d 377 (3d Cir. 2013).

This article is intended as a summary of  federal and state law and does not constitute legal advice.

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