Supreme Court hears challenge to Obamacare provision

Supreme Court hears challenge to Obamacare provision

OBAMACARE CHALLENGE: The so-called "contraception mandate" of the healthcare law requires employers to provide in their health insurance policies preventive services for women that include access to contraception and sterilization. Photo: Associated Press

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court convened on Tuesday to consider whether business owners can object on religious grounds to a provision of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law requiring employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control.

In one of the biggest cases this year, the nine justices set aside 90 minutes for oral argument, 30 minutes more than usual.

Underscoring the strong feelings around the issue, hundreds of noisy demonstrators, most of them women, protested outside the courthouse in an early spring snowstorm, many under umbrellas.

Supporters of the Obama administration’s stance chanted, “Ho, ho, hey, hey, birth control is here to stay,” while backers of the challengers shouted: “My faith, my family, my business.”

The case pits religious rights against reproductive rights, with a heavy dose of politics. The challengers are arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby Stores, evangelical Christians, and a Mennonite family that owns Conestoga Wood Specialties of Pennsylvania.

Prominent lawyer Paul Clement was due to argue first on behalf of the challengers to be followed after about 45 minutes by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli for the Obama administration.

The same lawyers faced off the last time the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, was before the justices in 2012. In that case, the justices upheld by a 5-4 vote the constitutionality of the 2010 act’s core feature requiring people to get health insurance.

The so-called “contraception mandate” of the healthcare law requires employers to provide in their health insurance policies preventive services for women that include access to contraception and sterilization.

The dozens of companies involved in the litigation do not all oppose every type of birth control. Some object only to emergency contraceptive methods, such as the so-called morning-after pill, which they view as akin to abortion.

The case also touches on questions of corporate rights four years after the court, in a case called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, endorsed broad free-speech rights for companies in the campaign finance context.

The justices will weigh whether the challengers have a claim under a 1993 federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

A ruling is expected by the end of June.

The cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-354, 13-356.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Howard Goller and Grant McCool)

Recent Headlines

in Sports

76ers top Lakers in Kobe’s final game in Philly, also win 1st game of season

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, left, talks with head coach Byron Scott, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014, in San Antonio. Los Angeles won 112-110.

Lakers star Kobe Bryant scored 20 points on 7-of-26 shooting in the final game of his career in his hometown. He walked off to a standing ovation and chants of "Kobe! Kobe!"

in Sports

College Football Playoff: No. 4 Iowa vs. No. 5 MSU will likely serve as playoff elimination


Iowa plays Michigan State for the Big Ten title Saturday in what effectively is an elimination game for the playoffs.

in Local Sports

Mariners, Orioles try to complete trade for Trumbo

Seattle Mariners Mark Trumbo is greeted after hitting a home run against the Houston Astros in the second inning of a baseball game Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Richard Carson)

The Mariners would get catcher/first baseman Steve Clevenger. The teams were reviewing medical records before finalizing the deal.

in Local, Local Sports

Bail set at $10K for WWU student arrested for racial threats

Reporters view the bail hearing of Tysen Campbell at the Whatcom County Jail. December 1st, 2015. 
(Alex Ashley - KGMI)

University officials say Tysen Campbell, who was a pole vaulter on the WWU track team, has been suspended and banned from campus pending the outcome of legal proceedings and the university's student conduct process.

in Sports

AP source: Red Sox agree to $217M, 7-year deal with Price


The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday night because the deal has not yet been signed and is pending a physical.