News

Supreme Court hears challenge to Obamacare provision

Supreme Court hears challenge to Obamacare provision

OBAMACARE CHALLENGE: The so-called "contraception mandate" of the healthcare law requires employers to provide in their health insurance policies preventive services for women that include access to contraception and sterilization. Photo: Associated Press

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court convened on Tuesday to consider whether business owners can object on religious grounds to a provision of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law requiring employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control.

In one of the biggest cases this year, the nine justices set aside 90 minutes for oral argument, 30 minutes more than usual.

Underscoring the strong feelings around the issue, hundreds of noisy demonstrators, most of them women, protested outside the courthouse in an early spring snowstorm, many under umbrellas.

Supporters of the Obama administration’s stance chanted, “Ho, ho, hey, hey, birth control is here to stay,” while backers of the challengers shouted: “My faith, my family, my business.”

The case pits religious rights against reproductive rights, with a heavy dose of politics. The challengers are arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby Stores, evangelical Christians, and a Mennonite family that owns Conestoga Wood Specialties of Pennsylvania.

Prominent lawyer Paul Clement was due to argue first on behalf of the challengers to be followed after about 45 minutes by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli for the Obama administration.

The same lawyers faced off the last time the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, was before the justices in 2012. In that case, the justices upheld by a 5-4 vote the constitutionality of the 2010 act’s core feature requiring people to get health insurance.

The so-called “contraception mandate” of the healthcare law requires employers to provide in their health insurance policies preventive services for women that include access to contraception and sterilization.

The dozens of companies involved in the litigation do not all oppose every type of birth control. Some object only to emergency contraceptive methods, such as the so-called morning-after pill, which they view as akin to abortion.

The case also touches on questions of corporate rights four years after the court, in a case called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, endorsed broad free-speech rights for companies in the campaign finance context.

The justices will weigh whether the challengers have a claim under a 1993 federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

A ruling is expected by the end of June.

The cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-354, 13-356.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Howard Goller and Grant McCool)

Recent Headlines

4 hours ago in Entertainment

REVIEW: ‘How To Be Single’ feels the same while trying too hard to be different

22-overlay-9

"How to Be Single" makes a valiant attempt to send up rom-com clichés but it borrows so much from other, better movies that you start to wonder if the film’s title should be "How to Commit Larceny."

5 hours ago in Music

Charles Kelley is a dad

charleskelleycassiekelley

The "Need You Now" singer and his wife Cassie McConnell Kelley welcomed son Ward Charles Kelley on Thursday.

7 hours ago in Entertainment

‘Star Wars’ producers face charges in Harrison Ford’s on-set accident

18-overlay-7

The "Indiana Jones" star broke his leg when the door of the Millennium Falcon fell on him during filming in 2014.

11 hours ago in Entertainment

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ headed for Broadway debut

mockingbird

Harper Lee's classic novel is coming to Broadway for the first time in a new stage version written by "West Wing" writer Aaron Sorkin.

11 hours ago in Entertainment

Charlize Theron gearing up for ‘Fast 8’

charlizetheron

The "Mad Max: Fury Road" star is in early talks to play the villain in the eighth installment of the hugely successful street racing series.