Jess Bravin reports for the Wall Street Journal:
The Supreme Court said Tuesday it would decide whether for-profit employers can invoke their religious beliefs to deny contraceptive coverage to female employees who would otherwise be entitled to it under the Affordable Care Act, in a new case before the high court challenging part of President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul.
The 2010 federal law, most of which the high court upheld in June 2012, includes contraceptive coverage among the minimum package of benefits insurance policies must include. The Obama administration has exempted religiously affiliated nonprofit employers, such as Catholic hospitals, from financing such coverage, but held that for-profit companies remain bound by the requirement, regardless of the beliefs espoused by their owners.
Lower courts have split on the question, and the justices Tuesday consolidated two appellate rulings that reached opposite conclusions into a single argument. The cases are expected to be heard in the spring of 2014, with a decision announced by June.
The companies challenging the rule are Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., an Oklahoma-based arts-and-crafts chain owned by the Green family, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a Pennsylvania manufacturer of wood cabinets owned by the Hahn family.
The cases hold implications beyond even the politically charged Affordable Care Act. They hold the potential of expanding First Amendment rights for corporations, a concept the Supreme Court embraced in the 2010 opinion known as Citizens United, which found that corporations held political speech rights akin to those of individuals. Among other questions, the contraceptive cases ask whether corporations have similar rights to religious expression.
The White House said Tuesday that it has accommodated churches and other religious institutions that don't wish to provide contraception coverage, but it said the requirement, when applied to for-profit corporations, "is lawful and essential to women's health."
David Cortman of the Alliance Defending Freedom, whose lawyers are representing Conestoga Wood Specialties, said: "The government shouldn't be able to punish Americans for exercising their fundamental freedoms."