GOP Senators Urge High Court to Reject ACA Birth-Control Rule

Tuesday, 28 Jan 2014 03:36 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Eighteen Republican senators have filed amicus briefs supporting a Supreme Court challenge by two businesses on religious grounds to the legality of Obamacare's birth-control mandate.

Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, John Cornyn of Texas, and David Vitter of Louisiana have claimed in their brief that President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy violates the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment and breaches the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They have joined the case brought by the evangelical owners of the arts and craft company Hobby Lobby and by cabinet makers Conestoga Wood Specialties, who say the new health reform law's requirement goes against their religious beliefs and freedom.

“The First Amendment guarantees every American the right to free exercise of religion,” Cruz said. “Yet, the Obama administration has chosen repeatedly to break the law by giving breaks to big business and Congress, while refusing to grant those same waivers to people with sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah has brought a separate amicus brief, arguing the mandate that contraceptives be covered by all healthcare plans is illegal under the Constitution. Hatch's brief was supported by 14 other Republican members who voted for the RFRA in 1993.

"It’s unfortunate but not surprising that the Obama administration continues to trample on the religious freedoms Americans hold dear, and the contraceptive mandate is a sad example of that,” Hatch said, The Daily Caller reports.

The Affordable Care Act requires larger companies to include free contraceptive services in employee health coverage.

But Cornyn said, “I join in filing this brief to protect the rights of all Texans and all Americans to practice their religious beliefs without obstruction from the federal government.”

Vitter added, "The ability to practice the faith we choose is one of our great Constitutional rights. The Obama administration's contraceptive mandate stomps on that right."

Hobby Lobby, which is based in Oklahoma and has 566 stores, says Obamacare would force the retail chain with 13,000 employees to cover morning-after pills, which founder and CEO David Green considers a form of abortion.

The group, along with its sister company, the Mardel Christian bookstore chain, won the case in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, resulting in the Department of Health and Human Service then appealing the case to the highest court.

On its website, Hobby Lobby, which does not open on Sundays, declares that it is committed to running its company "in a manner consistent with biblical principles."

At the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a federal appeals court rejected a claim from the Pennsylvania cabinet maker, which employs 950 people, that the Obamacare contraception mandate infringes on religious rights.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled by a vote of 2-1 against Conestoga's owners, the Hahn family, who are Mennonite Christians, stating that "for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise."

The nine justices of the Supreme Court are being asked to decide whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows Hobby Lobby the right to "deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law based on the religious objections," says the SCOTUSblog.

The case is grouped with that of Conestoga, which also claims the Obamacare law violates the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, 19 Democratic senators, all of whom voted for the RFRA, planned to file their own amicus briefs in support of the contraceptive mandate. Calling it "a gross misapplication" of the law, they claim the act's religious freedom was never intended to apply to a for-profit company, Yahoo News reports.

"Allowing a woman's boss to call the shots about her access to birth control should be inconceivable to all Americans in this day and age, and takes us back to a place in history when women had no voice or choice," Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state was due to say in prepared remarks about the brief on the Senate floor.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi also announced on Tuesday that she and 91 of her colleagues in the House were preparing an amicus brief in favor of the mandate, The Daily Caller reports.

The Supreme Court is due to start hearing the case on March 25.

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