Supreme Court Justices will meet behind closed doors today to discuss several challenges to the Affordable Care Act's so-called contraception mandate. We could hear as early as today whether the court will step in and hear one of the cases. It is very likely that it will.
Lower courts have split on the issue and the solicitor general has asked the court to resolve the dispute.
Although there are several cases before the court, it is most likely that it will hear a challenge brought by Hobby Lobby, a craft store chain with about 13,000 employees. It is owned by the Green family who argue that the law violates its religious beliefs. Regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act compel certain employers to provide health-insurance coverage for FDA approved contraceptives.
The Green family has no moral objection to the use of 16 of 20 preventive contraceptives required in the mandate but it says it cannot provide or pay for four of the drugs including Plan B and Ella, the so-called morning-after pill and the week-after pill.
The Greens belief is that human life begins when sperm fertilize an egg and that it is immoral for them to facilitate any act that causes the death of a human embryo.
Lawyers for Hobby Lobby say that his clients are forced to either violate their faith by covering the mandated contraceptives or pay crippling fines.
"It would not be consistent for us to live one way at home and accept a different way at work," says Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby in a video provided by his lawyers. "That would be inconsistent with our faith."
A lower court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby.
At issue is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) a federal law that says that "Government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling government interest.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the definition of "person" under the law includes corporations regardless of their profit-making status. Furthermore, the court held that Hobby Lobby incurs a substantial burden under the law because their religious beliefs are compromised and they could be forced to pay large fines.
The court noted that the contraceptive-coverage requirement does not apply to those working for private employers with grandfathered plans, for employers with fewer than 50 employees and under a proposed rule, for colleges and universities run by religious institutions.
The Obama administration defends the regulations arguing that the mandate promotes public health, and that for -profit corporate respondents-like Hobby Lobby-are not "persons" within the meaning of RFRA. "The Court is Appeals decision is incorrect," Verrilli says in court papers, "and would transform RFRA from a shield for individuals and religious institutions into a sword used to deny employees of for-profit commercial enterprises the benefits and protections of generally applicable laws."
If the court agrees to hear the case in the coming weeks, it is likely that it will be heard before June.