High Court Hears Arguments Regarding The Birth Control Coverage Mandate

Justices appeared divided over this case, which involves both issues of religious freedoms and a provision of the health overhaul.  

Reuters: Religious Fight Over Contraception Splits Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared closely divided on Tuesday as it weighed whether business owners can object on religious grounds to a provision of President Barack Obama's healthcare law that requires employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control (Hurley and Biskupic, 3/25).

The Associated Press: High Court Seems Divided Over Birth Control Rule
The case argued Tuesday involves family-owned companies that provide health insurance to their employees, but object to covering certain methods of birth control that they say can work after conception, in violation of their religious beliefs (Sherman, 3/25).

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Debates Contraception Requirement
The Affordable Care Act requires employers to cover all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration in employee health plans without charging a copayment. The plaintiffs' objections center on the fact that that includes the so-called morning-after pill known as Plan B and certain intrauterine devices, which they consider a form of abortion (Kendall, Bravin and Radnofsky, 3/25).

Fox News: Supreme Court Takes Up Obamacare Contraceptive Mandate In Landmark Case
Some of the nearly 50 businesses that have sued over covering contraceptives object to paying for all forms of birth control. But the companies involved in the high court case are willing to cover most methods of contraception, as long as they can exclude drugs or devices that the government says may work after an egg has been fertilized. The largest company among them, Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., and the Green family that owns it, say their "religious beliefs prohibit them from providing health coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices that end human life after conception" (3/25). 

The New York Times: Justices Seem Divided On Health Law’s Contraceptive Rule
In an argument that touched on medical science and moral philosophy, the Supreme Court on Tuesday wrestled with whether corporations may refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraception to their workers based on the religious beliefs of the corporations’ owners. The court seemed ready to accept that at least some for-profit corporations may advance claims based on religious freedom. But the justices appeared divided along ideological lines over whether the objections before it, based on a requirement in President Obama’s health care law, should succeed (Liptak, 3/25).

The Washington Post: Supreme Court Divided As It Hears Argument On Contraceptive Coverage
With both snow and demonstrators gathering on the sidewalk outside, it was difficult to predict a precise outcome from the spirited 90-minute argument. But a majority of the justices seemed to agree that the family-owned businesses that objected to the requirement were covered by a federal statute that gives great protection to the exercise of religion. That would mean the government must show the requirement is not a substantial burden on their religious expression, and that there was no less intrusive way to provide contraceptive coverage to female workers (Barnes, 3/25).

Los Angeles Times: Justices Sound Ready To Reject Contraceptives Mandate Under Obamacare
The Supreme Court’s conservative justices sharply criticized part of President Obama’s healthcare law Tuesday, suggesting they will rule later this year that requiring Christian-owned corporations to offer their employees contraceptives coverage violates the freedom of religion. “Your reasoning would permit requiring profit-making corporations to pay for abortions,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy told U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who defended the contraceptives provision of the Affordable Care Act. The administration’s lawyer warned that the court would be adopting a “dangerous principle” if it gave employers a right to exempt themselves from federal laws based on their religious beliefs (Savage, 3/25).

The Chicago Tribune: Supreme Court Sharply Divided On Obamacare Birth Control Mandate
The U.S. Supreme Court showed no clear consensus on Tuesday about 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. During the first half of an oral argument, three justices from the court's liberal wing vigorously defended the so-called contraception mandate by firing repeated questions at the lawyer, Paul Clement, who asked the court to strike it down. As the 90-minute argument continued, conservatives began to give similar treatment to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the Obama administration lawyer defending the mandate (3/25).

USA Today: Supreme Court Seeks Compromise In Contraception Case
The Obama administration struggled Tuesday to defend the so-called 'contraception mandate' in its fledgling health-care law before a Supreme Court clearly sympathetic to religious objections raised by employers. While the justices were predictably divided along ideological lines, it appeared that a majority of them did not want to force for-profit corporations to offer health plans that include birth control methods they claim cause abortions (Wolf, 3/25).

Politico: Hobby Lobby Case: Justices Skeptical Of White House Position
The Supreme Court expressed skepticism today of the legality of the Obama administration's refusal to accommodate for-profit companies' religious objections to the Obamacare contraceptive requirement.
A majority of the justices seemed particularly doubtful of the administration's claim that for-profit companies have no religious rights under federal law. Several questioned why the administration couldn't give for-profit companies whose owners object to the requirement on religious ground the same kind of accommodation that has been offered to religious non-profits (Haberkorn and Gerstein, 3/25).

NBC News: Protesters Rally As Supreme Court Hears Case On Obamacare And Religion 
Protesters chanted and waved signs at the Supreme Court on Tuesday while the justices convened to hear a closely watched case — whether Obamacare violates the religious freedom of employers by requiring them to provide insurance for contraceptives. A crowd of perhaps 500 people gathered in the snow outside the court. Most appeared to be on the side of the government, which is arguing that freedom of religion applies only to company owners as individuals, not to the companies themselves (Curry, 3/25). 

Read this the Daily Report summary of the news in advance of the arguments that set the scene for today's action as well as earlier, related KHN coverage, Justices To Weigh Contraceptive Mandate Against Religious Freedom Claims, by Stuart Taylor.

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.