WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear another legal challenge to President Obama’s healthcare law, this time to decide whether a corporation can refuse to pay to cover birth control drugs that violate the religious beliefs of the firm's owners.
At issue is a growing clash between some Christian employers who object to some contraceptives they consider “abortion-inducing” and potentially millions of female workers who can benefit from free birth control.
The case also calls on the court to decide whether corporations have religious rights similar to the free-speech rights that were upheld in the Citizens United decision in 2010.
Besides requiring most employers to provide health insurance, the Affordable Care Act mandates that the insurance cover “preventive services” at no cost to the employee. That means cancer screening and other tests, but also what federal rules define as the “full range” of approved contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives such as so-called morning-after pills.
When Catholic bishops objected to that requirement, the White House agreed to exempt “religious employers,” including churches, from the mandate. The administration also said religiously affiliated schools, colleges and hospitals could avoid paying directly for such benefits. Their insurers were told to cover the cost.
But the administration has refused to extend the exemption to cover private, for-profit corporations whose owners voice religious qualms.
Dozens of private employers have filed suits seeking an exemption from the contraceptive mandate. They include David Green, founder of the Hobby Lobby chain of crafts stores based in Oklahoma City, who brought the suit which is now headed for the high court.
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