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Health law birth control coverage before justices

Hobby Lobby Birth Control

Mar. 23, 2014 8:09 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration and its opponents are renewing the Supreme Court battle over President Barack Obama's health care law in a case that pits the religious rights of employers against the rights of women to the birth control of their choice.

Two years after the entire law survived the justices' review by a single vote, the court is hearing arguments Tuesday in a religion-based challenge from family-owned companies that object to covering certain contraceptives in their health plans as part of the law's preventive care requirement.

Health plans must offer a range of services at no extra charge, including all forms of birth control for women that have been approved by federal regulators.

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."

Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby has more than 15,000 full-time employees in more than 600 crafts stores in 41 states. The Greens are evangelical Christians who also own Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain.

The other company is Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. of East Earl, Pa., owned by a Mennonite family and employing 950 people in making wood cabinets.

The administration says a victory for the companies would prevent women who work for them from making decisions about birth control based on what's best for their health, not whether they can afford it. The government's supporters point to research showing that nearly one-third of women would change their contraceptive if cost were not an issue; a very effective means of birth control, the intrauterine device, can cost up to $1,000.

"Women already have an income gap. If these companies prevail, they'll have a health insurance gap, too," said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center.

The contraceptives at issue before the court are the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, and two IUDs.

The government also argues that employers would be able to invoke religious objections under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act to opt out of other laws, including those governing immunizations, minimum wages and Social Security taxes. The Supreme Court previously has rejected some of these claims in cases decided before the law's enactment.

The issue is largely confined to family-controlled businesses with a small number of shareholders.

A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 85 percent of large American employers already had offered such coverage before the health care law required it. There are separate lawsuits challenging the contraception provision from religiously affiliated hospitals, colleges and charities.

The federal appeals court in Denver ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. Conestoga Wood lost its case at the federal appeals court in Philadelphia

In many respects, Hobby Lobby is the sort of company Obama would be pointing to as he advocates for corporate responsibility and a higher minimum wage.

Hobby Lobby's base pay for full-time employees is almost twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. They are offered health insurance, dental coverage and a retirement savings plan. Hobby Lobby stores close most nights at 8 p.m., which the company says is aimed at allowing employees to spend more time with their families.

The Greens say they have no desire to make health care decisions for their employees, but neither do they want to contribute to services to which they object.

One key issue before the justices is whether profit-making corporations may assert religious beliefs under the 1993 religious freedom law or the First Amendment provision guaranteeing Americans the right to believe and worship as they choose. The court could skirt that issue by finding that the individuals who own the businesses have the right to object.

The justices still would have to decide whether the birth control requirement really impinges on religious freedom, and if so, whether the government makes a persuasive case that the policy is important and is put in place in the least objectionable way possible.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood say the burden they face is clear in the $100-a-day fine for each employee they would have to pay for not complying with the contraception provision. By contrast, businesses that choose not to offer health insurance at all can pay a tax of $2,000 a year for each employee.

One potentially underemphasized aspect of the case is that there is no requirement that employers offer health insurance. They could pay the tax, which will be cheaper in many instances, according to Georgetown University's Martin Lederman, who has advanced the argument.

But Mark Rienzi, a Catholic University professor who is on the Hobby Lobby legal team, said Hobby Lobby would be at a competitive disadvantage with other employers who offer health insurance. "Their view is and has always been that they want to take really good care of their employees and their families," Rienzi said.

The companies say they believe life begins at conception, and they oppose only birth control methods that can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, but not other forms of contraception. There is dispute over whether any of these contraceptives works by preventing implantation, but the administration has not raised that issue in this case.


Follow Mark Sherman on Twitter @shermancourt

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
brian1russ March 23 2014 at 4:49 PM

It is insurance, and insurance covers 99 % of a need that is never used. The more things covered the better insurance is

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3 replies
rziccardi March 24 2014 at 12:00 AM

why must this rag stretch the truth
hobby lobby only contest 4 out of 20 methods
the 4 that are the morning after ABORTION PILLS
BTW the colleges have vending machines where these 4 can be bought for 5.00 a dose

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JOHN March 23 2014 at 2:36 PM

It's not just religion, it's Corporations! Coverage for drug my wife needs are not paid for due to OTC being available that are comparible to what has been prescribed. "Comparible" are not the same.
so whether it be birth control or any drugs, it has to do with $'s. If anyone feels different, try to appeal the drug in question. New drugs (non-generic) are extremely expensive. My wife's drugs cost us over $6000 for 2013 due to our Corporate policy!

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1 reply
summerctz JOHN March 23 2014 at 3:12 PM

Maybe you ,=]mena the insurance co's? Thye;re the ones that regulate what your policy will cover, not your employer.

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rfergusono March 23 2014 at 6:30 PM

Does that suggest that condoms might also be covered (no pun intended)?

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mtaylorus March 24 2014 at 5:30 AM

I agree with you Doug, we are also guilty of that same message "across the pond". Women love men who really care and lead in this area. Funny most women I have talked to are impressed with the men who say "no".

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Bob Wagner March 23 2014 at 7:06 PM

When laws contradict themselves such as when life is started then I take issue . A fetus that is 4 weeks in the womb can be aborted , but if a person causes an accident ( and kills ) the same 4 week fetus it is a crime . Law has yet to establish when the 4 week old fetus is " alive " . The question isnt about choice , its about what is life . The contradiction between laws just tells me one law is wrong . You cant say its life one way and not the other . So , which is it ?

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Glenda March 23 2014 at 7:09 PM

If they believe life begins at conception then wouldn't birth control block conception? Then they have nothing to worried about because conception is not guaranteed just because you have sex,

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1 reply
NKocher001 Glenda March 23 2014 at 7:24 PM

It is medication such as "The morning after" pill that they are opposed to I believe.

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3 replies
Eveorah March 24 2014 at 12:09 AM

I can understand the company's objections so by the same right of personal decision I don't have to buy their products. It cuts both ways, funny how trying to be sanctimonious about someone else's personal medical and reproductive decisions can bite such companies in the rear.

BTW, for those who want to excoriate Obama I've got to ask why? He hasn't done a whole lot, other then Obama Care, that's any different from Bush! The truth is neither the Republicans OR the Democrats pay much attention to the folks in the middle but by golly BOTH parties are all ears when it comes to the professional lobbyists and their corporate clients and big billionaire buddies! But please do continue to slang each other politically, such activity tends to make it easier for true fascism to get a foothold because when that comes in their first act is to help those in the ever growing middle since the Demicans are too busy ******* up to the corporate giants and their billionaire buddies like Sorros and the Koch Bros!

And yes I DO object to vastly inflated profits while jobs are destroyed by those same corporations and billionaires.


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1 reply
Utahmomof8! Eveorah March 24 2014 at 12:18 AM

Some people value their values. It is not sanctimonious to stand strong for a value system. The left claims such tolerance for all....until they are asked to tolerate something they don't agree with. Stop shopping at Hobby Lobby if that's your way of speaking out. They'd rather lose customers than their values.

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1 reply
METROPROCESS Utahmomof8! March 24 2014 at 2:59 AM

Some people don't think having 8 children is a badge of honor. Thanks, we stopped shopping at this company years ago.

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Theresa March 23 2014 at 7:17 PM

I am so sick of this debate or issue. What if a woman medically needs this are they going to ban it to woman that need to use it for endometreosis and other gyn disorders? Keep religion out of medicine.

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4 replies
nasknit March 24 2014 at 4:08 AM

Hobby Lobby is not against paying for birth control. They are against paying for/covering Abortificeint drugs, like the morning after pill. Since when did IUD's go up to $1,000? Somebody's gouging. I had one in the 1970's, and it didn't cost $100!

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