US high court to hear church groups’ Obamacare challenge
WASHINGTON, United States—The US Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear yet another challenge to President Barack Obama’s health care law, this one from religious groups refusing to pay for their employees’ birth control.
The hearing, expected before the high court in late March, will mark the latest in a stream of legal attacks on the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
It will pit issues of women’s right to equal health care against constitutionally protected religious freedoms.
Seven religious nonprofit groups—including the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns who operate nursing homes—have asked to be exempted on grounds of conscience from the contraceptive requirements of the ACA, which Obama signed into law the year after he took office.
The law has drawn the contempt of many conservatives, who view it as a case of presidential overreach that imposes costs on employers and reduces individuals’ health care choices. It has, however, extended health coverage to millions of Americans.
Three previous legal challenges to the law have reached the Supreme Court. Each has been rebuffed, if narrowly. This challenge, even if it prevails in the court, poses a much narrower threat to the ACA.
The law provides for exemptions for employers who object to paying for their workers’ birth control; they need only make a formal certification of their objections, and the costs of contraception are then assumed by insurance companies.
But the religious institutions pressing the current challenge, which operate clinics, charitable associations or universities, contend that the simple act of making such a statement implicates them, almost as accessories, in an act fundamentally contrary to their values.
They are asking to be given a definitive exemption, such as the Supreme Court has previously extended to churches or strictly religious groups.