WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s health care law is headed for a new Supreme Court showdown over companies’ religious objections to the law’s birth-control mandate.
Amid the troubled rollout of the health law, and 17 months after the justices upheld it, the Obama administration is defending a provision that requires most employers that offer health insurance to their workers to provide a range of preventive health benefits, including contraception.
Roughly 40 for-profit companies have sued, arguing they should not be forced to cover some or all forms of birth control because doing so would violate their religious beliefs.
Both sides want the justices to settle an issue that has divided lower courts. The high court could announce its decision whether to take up the topic as early as Tuesday, following its closed-door meeting.
Arguments probably would take place in late March with a decision expected in late June.
The key issue is whether profit-making corporations can assert religious beliefs under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Nearly four years ago, the justices expanded the concept of corporate “personhood,” saying in the Citizens United case that corporations have the right to participate in the political process the same way that individuals do.
The administration wants the court to hear its appeal of the Denver-based federal appeals court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts chain that calls itself a “biblically founded business” and is closed on Sundays. Founded in 1972, the company now operates more than 500 stores in 41 states and employs more than 13,000 full-time employees who are eligible for health insurance. The Green family, Hobby Lobby’s owners, also owns the Mardel Christian bookstore chain.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said corporations can be protected by the 1993 law in the same manner as individuals, and “that the contraceptive-coverage requirement substantially burdens Hobby Lobby and Mardel’s rights under” the law.