High court to hear contraceptives case

Obamacare requirement of employers under attack

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases on whether corporations may circumvent the Affordable Care Act by refusing to provide insurance coverage for contraception to their workers based on the religious beliefs of the corporations' owners, the justices agreed Tuesday.

The cases present a new challenge to President Barack Obama's health care law. The Supreme Court in 2012 upheld another part of the law, one that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty.

The Obama administration has exempted many religious groups from the law's requirements for contraception coverage. But it said for-profit corporations could not rely on religious objections to opt out of compliance with the law. The lower courts are divided over whether such corporations may object to generally applicable laws on religious liberty grounds.

In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, ruled for Hobby Lobby, a corporation owned by a family whose members have said they try to run the business on Christian principles. The company, which operates a chain of arts-and-crafts stores and has more than 15,000 full-time employees of many faiths, objected to a requirement in the health care law requiring large employers to provide their workers with comprehensive insurance coverage for contraception.

Hobby Lobby has about 15 stores in metropolitan Atlanta.

The company told the justices it had no problem offering coverage for many forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery. But drugs and devices that can prevent embryos from implanting in the womb are another matter, the company said, making it complicit in a form of abortion.

A month later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, ruled against Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., which is owned by a Mennonite family that had similar objections to the law. The 3rd Circuit concluded that "for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise."

The cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, No. 13-354, and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, No. 13-356.

- New York Times