Supreme Court Agrees to Review Obamacare Contraception Mandate

Human Rights

The US supreme court will hear a fresh legal challenge to President Obama's troubled healthcare reforms after justices agreed on Tuesday to take up two cases brought by companies refusing to provide contraception to employees.

In a major test of the rights of corporations over individuals, the court will hear arguments that a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring emergency contraception to be part of qualifying health insurance plans infringes on the religious freedoms of employers who oppose such drugs as a form of abortion.

Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based chain of craft stores, won a lower court appeal against the law after judges in Denver ruled that corporations should have freedom of religious expression in such circumstances.

A subsequent appeal of this ruling by the Department of Justice will now be heard by the supreme court in Washington alongside a similar case brought by a Mennonite-owned wood manufacturer in Pennsylvania, which was originally rejected by a lower court there.

The two cases represent the latest high-profile legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, which only went ahead after the supreme court rejected arguments that its core requirement mandating individuals to have insurance cover infringed the constitution.

But this new supreme court challenge, though less central to the effectiveness of the wider reforms, could go against the administration if justices follow similar logic to that applied when they were asked to rule on the political freedoms of companies to make campaign contributions.

Judges in the 10th circuit appeals court that upheld Hobby Lobby's original complaint said the same rationale used to protect corporate donations in the so-called Citizens United case should now extend to religious freedoms.

“We see no reason the supreme court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” judge Timothy M Tymkovich wrote for the majority.

The Affordable Care Act already exempts religious organisations and charities from the birth control requirements, but the DOJ argues it should not extend to for-profit companies that happen to be owned by people with strong religious beliefs.

The White House defended the Act in a statement on Tuesday: "As a general matter, our policy is designed to ensure that healthcare decisions are made between a woman and her doctor. The president believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women." 

The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, said: "When the supreme court hears this case, the choice must be clear: health care decisions should be made by a woman and her doctor, not by her boss, by insurance companies, or by Washington politicians. Women's health should never be dictated by a third party and should always be left in the hands of America's women and their families." 

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