Supreme Court contraception case hinges on decades-old religious freedom law

Religious leaders are preparing to face off against the Obama administration in a Supreme Court hearing next week that will determine whether or not government exemptions surrounding the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate have left enough room for religiously affiliated employers to exercise religious freedom, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The court will hear arguments from Pittsburgh bishop, the Most Rev. David Zubik, who has challenged the health law's mandate that employer health plans cover contraception. Although the federal government has developed exceptions to the mandate, allowing religiously affiliated employers that object to birth control to notify the federal government or the institution's insurance company, Zubik argues that the exemptions don't go far enough because health plans linked to employers are still forced to cover birth control methods that the Catholic Church views as immoral. The government's exemptions shield employers from paying for or providing contraception, deferring the cost of coverage to insurance plans instead.

According to the WSJ, the case will rely on the high court's interpretation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that prevents federal law from standing in the way of religious expression. The Obama administration argues that a decision in favor of Zubik, which would prevent an independent insurance plan from providing contraception to enrollees, would have widespread consequences on how religiously affiliated organizations adhere to other federal requirements they find morally objectionable.  

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia, a proponent of religious freedom, has significant implications. The best case scenario for Zubik could be a 4-4 draw, although Justice Anthony Kennedy could provide a 5-3 swing vote in favor of the Obama administration, according to the newspaper.

In 2014, the Supreme Court voted in favor of Hobby Lobby, a family-owned company that objected to the ACA's contraceptive mandate; however, the court ruled that the government could pay for contraceptive coverage. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the 8th Circuit in St. Louis, Mo., sided with three Christian colleges that objected to the mandate, which propelled the issue to the Supreme Court.

To learn more:
- read the WSJ article

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