News

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 Local

Recall: Popular Kroger-brand spices are taken off Fred Meyer shelves

Fresh
Kroger spices recalled

If you’ve bought popular Kroger spices such as cinnamon, garlic powder, course ground black pepper or Bac’n Buds, these products may be contaminated with Salmonella

in Local

Foreclosures in Bellingham are down

Fresh
House Real Estate

The CoreLogic National Foreclosure Report shows nearly half a percent drop in Bellingham from last year.

in Local

New waterfront trail opens

Fresh
waterfront

The new waterfront trail is finally open. The trail is a part of the Waterfront District Redevelopment Project to redevelop what used to be a pulp and tissue manufacturing facility.

in Local Sports

Former WSU kicker Andrew Furney cut by Jets

Fresh
wsu cougars washington state univeristy pac 12 football logo

Furney spent last summer with the Jets, and kicked a 51-yard game-winning field goal in New York's preseason opening win over Indianapolis.

in Sports

Angels OF Trout out against Houston with wrist injury

Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout gets ready for his at-bat during the first inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners on Monday, March 31, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif.

The All-Star center fielder was hurt attempting to make a diving catch in the fourth inning on Sunday