The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will revisit the controversial health care law dubbed Obamacare, this time to decide whether employers must cover contraception in their insurance plans.
The highly anticipated challenge will mark the first time the high court has taken up the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act since upholding its key planks in June 2012. The case will also pit religious beliefs against governmental power, with potentially far-reaching consequences for both.
“The question presented is one of exceptional importance,” Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr., advised the Supreme Court in a legal brief.
Underscoring the case’s significance, and foreshadowing the kind of kibitzing to come, California and 10 other states filed a legal brief likewise urging the court to hear the challenge commonly called Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. The names stand for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and Hobby Lobby Stores, though whole armies of advocates are arrayed behind each.
The issue to be decided by the Supreme Court concerns the so-called contraception mandate, which so far has spurred radically different conclusions from lower appellate courts. This serious split on a pressing legal question had all but guaranteed the Supreme Court would grant a hearing.
“As the federal government embarks on an unprecedented foray into health care replete with multiple overlapping mandates, few issues are more important than the extent to which the government must recognize and accommodate the religious exercise of those it regulates,” S. Kyle Duncan of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty wrote in a Hobby Lobby brief.
The health-care law sets minimum standards for the health insurance packages offered by employers that employ more than 50 workers. Among other requirements, the plans must cover certain preventive exams, immunizations and screenings for diseases like diabetes. The plans must also cover an array of contraceptive methods that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including pills, diaphragms, intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptives.
Under political fire, the Obama administration wrote rules that exempt churches and non-profit religious organizations from the contraception mandate. Nonetheless, colleges associated with a number of different religious faiths have filed their own lawsuits.
The founders of Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City based chain that employs some 13,000 workers in more than 500 arts-and-crafts stores nationwide, likewise say at least part of the contraception mandate violates their religious convictions. Those Christian convictions include the belief that life begins at conception, when an egg is fertilized
The court consolidated the Hobby Lobby challenge with another one filed by Conestoga Wood Specialties.