The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to rule on the element of Obamacare that pro-life Americans find most objectionable: The contraceptive mandate. Under the healthcare law, businesses must provide health insurance plans for employees that include coverage of contraceptives, including abortifacients like Plan B and Ella. The case involves fundamental questions of religious liberty and may set an important precedent for how the government handles religious protections.
Dozens of businesses have sued the federal government over the mandate, including Hobby Lobby, a 13,000-employee craft store chain owned by David Green and his family, who as evangelical Christians object to paying for abortifacients. An appeals court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby earlier this year, but other court rulings have been divided on the contraceptive mandate, setting the matter up for a Supreme Court showdown.
“My family and I are encouraged that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide our case,” Green said in a statement. “This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only: The right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution.”
According to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby, there are currently 84 lawsuits challenging the contraceptive mandate. Forty-four were filed by for-profit businesses.
On Tuesday the Supreme Court said it would consolidate two of those cases, involving Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinetmaker owned by Mennonites who also object to the contraceptive coverage. The court will likely hear oral arguments in March and issue a ruling by June.
The Obama administration is asking the court to force private businesses to provide Food and Drug Administration–approved birth control to female employees. At issue is whether doing so would violate the rights of employers who object to the contraceptives on religious grounds.
A 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is supposed to protect individuals from government mandates that would force them to violate their religious beliefs. Some have questioned whether religious protections can extend beyond individuals and apply to businesses: The appeals court that ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby earlier this year determined that they could. The Supreme Court may have to provide a final answer to that question. It will also need to decide whether the government has a compelling interest in ensuring female employees receive access to birth control, which the Obama administration calls “essential to women’s health.”
“The president believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate [healthcare] decisions to women,” the White House said in a statement following Tuesday’s Supreme Court announcement.
Opponents of the contraceptive mandate pointed to the significance of the case for the future of religious liberty in America. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called it “the most important religious liberty question in recent years. … Our religious convictions aren’t reduced to mere opinions we hide in our heart and in our hymns. Our religious convictions inform the way we live.”
Moore added that religious liberty wasn’t “a gift handed to us by Uncle Caesar.”
The Supreme Court’s decision to rule on the contraceptive mandate comes at a time when Obamacare is already suffering a popularity problem. Subsequent to the government’s botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, public approval of the healthcare law has plummeted in polls. A WPA Opinion Research survey released Monday shows 59 percent of likely voters specifically oppose the law’s contraceptive mandate.
“This is a flawed mandate within a flawed law,” said Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council, which commissioned the poll. “The reality is that employers may choose to drop healthcare coverage for their employees and their families altogether rather than submit to this intrusive federal mandate.”