The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider whether for-profit businesses employing 50 or more people can, on religious grounds, opt out of an Affordable Care Act requirement to cover contraceptives in health benefits plans.
While federal rules exempt churches and nonprofit religious organizations from the contraceptive coverage requirement, for-profit businesses must meet it. Objections have prompted about 40 lawsuits nationwide, according to the Associated Press.
"This case presents … a question that's been open for a long time: Do companies, not just people and churches, have religious freedom?" Supreme Court expert Tom Goldstein told NBC News.
The high court will consider two cases: one brought by the Oklahoma-based craft store chain Hobby Lobby and another by Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, a Pennsylvania cabinet maker.
Hobby Lobby founder David Green told NBC he considers providing benefits for morning-after pills and intrauterine devices tantamount to abortion complicity. In an interview with National Public Radio, Hobby Lobby attorney Kyle Duncan said the contraceptive coverage requirement forces business owners "to choose between violating their faith or exposing their businesses to severe consequences including, potentially, severe fines."
The contraceptive coverage requirement exists to ensure healthcare decisions are made between a woman and her doctor, according to a White House statement. "The President believes that no-one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women," the White House said yesterday.
Court filings by the U.S. Justice Department claim overturning the contraceptive coverage provision "would disregard fundamental tenets of corporate law that distinguish between the rights and responsibilities of a corporation and those of its owners," NBC noted.
This latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act comes when public support for the law is dwindling following exchange enrollment website glitches and uncertainty about whether Americans can keep their canceled plans.
Meanwhile, legislation introduced last month in the House would require that insurers disclose whether they cover abortion procedures in plans sold through health insurance exchanges.