House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday applauded the Supreme Court's decision to consider whether businesses can object on religious grounds to providing birth control coverage to employees under Obamacare.
"I'm pleased the Supreme Court has decided to address this important issue," the Ohio Republican told Newsmax. "Faith-based employers, including Catholic charities, schools, universities, and hospitals, should not be forced to provide services that contradict their faith.
"The administration's mandate is an attack on religious freedom, and I'm hopeful it will be reversed by the court," Boehner said.
Seventeen months after the Supreme Court ruled that
Obamacare was constitutional, the justices agreed to hear two cases that would decide whether private companies can be exempt from the healthcare law's contraception requirement based on religious grounds.
Under the "contraception mandate" of the Affordable Care Act, employers must provide health insurance policies with preventive services for women that include access to contraception and sterilization. Religious institutions are exempt from the regulation.
Oral arguments likely will be scheduled for March, with a ruling due by June. The issue is expected to be one of the most high-profile cases of this court term.
"Women should not be used to justify this assault on individual liberty," Hadley Heath, senior policy analyst at the Independent Women's Forum in Washington, told Newsmax.
"Women have been capable of obtaining birth control on their own long before this mandate — and numerous organizations and programs exist to help those who truly cannot afford these products.
"Women who believe in freedom of association do not want to be told how to live, and do not need to force others to violate their beliefs to spare them the cost of a pack of birth-control pills," Heath said. "Harmful and misguided, the mandate further illustrates how Obamacare's one-size-fits-all system undermines American values."
Obamacare has faced many political and legal hurdles since it was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.
In June 2012, the Supreme Court narrowly voted 5-4 that the healthcare law's requirement that every American must obtain health insurance was constitutional. (The court ruled that a key portion of the law, the Medicaid expansion, was unconstitutional.)
Since the rollout of its individual mandate on Oct. 1, Obamacare has faced myriad problems. Americans continue to experience technological and accessibility problems regarding the law's main website, HealthCare.gov.
Top technology officials have told Congress the site may not be fully operational by the end of the month, as the president promised.
Obamacare also may face yet another legal challenge, over whether states can provide voter registration applications to Americans shopping for health insurance.
With its decision on Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to consider an issue that has divided the lower courts in the face of as many as 40 lawsuits from for-profit companies seeking to be spared from having to cover some or all forms of contraception.
The administration promotes the Obamacare contraception provision as part of a range of free preventive care. Contraception is included in the package of cost-free benefits, which opponents say is an attack on the religious freedom of employers.
One of the cases involves Hobby Lobby Inc., an Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts chain with 13,000 full-time employees. Hobby Lobby won in the lower courts.
The other case is an appeal from Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania company that employs 950 people in making wood cabinets. The company's claims have been rejected by lower courts.
The cases, which the justices said would be combined for arguments, center on the requirement that employers who offer health insurance to their workers provide the range of free preventive health benefits.
In both instances, the Christian families that own the companies contend that insuring some forms of contraception violates their religious beliefs.
The key issue is whether profit-making corporations may assert religious beliefs under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act or under the First Amendment provision guaranteeing Americans the right to believe and worship as they choose.
Nearly four years ago, the justices expanded the concept of corporate "personhood," saying in a case brought by Citizens United that corporations have the right to participate in the political process that is similar to that of individuals.
Some lower-court judges have applied the same logic to religious beliefs.
"The government has no business forcing citizens to choose between making a living and living free," said David Cortman, of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian public-interest law firm that is representing Conestoga Wood.
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obamacare "puts women and families in control of their healthcare by covering vital preventive care, like cancer screenings and birth control, free of charge."
The administration has already exempted churches from the requirement, Carney said, and has created a buffer between faith-affiliated charities and contraceptive coverage by requiring insurers or another third party to provide contraceptive coverage instead of the religious employer.
Separate lawsuits are challenging that arrangement.
The issue is largely confined to religious institutions and family-controlled businesses with a small number of shareholders. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 85 percent of large U.S. employers already offered coverage before Obamacare required it.
Describing itself as a "biblically founded business," Hobby Lobby is closed on Sundays. It was founded in 1972 and now operates more than 500 stores in 41 states.
The Green family, who own Hobby Lobby, also own the Mardel Christian bookstore chain.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said that corporations can be protected by the 1993 law in the same manner as individuals, and that "the contraceptive-coverage requirement substantially burdens Hobby Lobby and Mardel's rights" under the law.
In its Supreme Court brief, the White House said the appeals court ruling was wrong and, if allowed to stand, would make Obamacare "a sword used to deny employees of for-profit commercial enterprises the benefits and protections of generally applicable laws."
Conestoga Wood is owned by a Mennonite family who "object as a matter of conscience to facilitating contraception that may prevent the implantation of a human embryo in the womb," the Alliance Defending Freedom said in its brief.
The law firm is based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the company on its claims under the 1993 law and the Constitution, saying "for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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