Today seems to be Obamacare Legal Challenge Day. We noted earlier that arguments in Halbig v. Sebelius are before the D.C. Circuit. Meanwhile the Supreme Court will hear arguments today in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, which involves whether for-profit corporations can cite religious beliefs to keep from providing contraception coverage to their employees. The Affordable Care Act requires large employers to provide contraception coverage in health insurance plans they offer. The Obama administration exempted religious non-profits, but not for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby.
The owners of the arts-and-crafts chain are evangelical Christians who object to contraceptive methods, such as IUDs, which the ACA requires to be covered. They cite the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, arguing that the contraceptive mandate imposes a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion. Note that this assumes corporations have the same protections as individuals. Given the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court may well agree. (It also assume that corporations have religious beliefs; as one federal judge who heard the case put it, for-profit companies “do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.”)
Unlike Halbig, this case won’t make or break Obamacare, but obviously the stakes are high for women’s access to contraception. If the Court rules for Hobby Lobby, corporations would suddenly have a giant loophole to potentially avoid the legal requirement to cover birth control for employees. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued it “would transform RFRA from a shield for individuals and religious institutions into a sword used to deny employees of for-profit commercial enterprises the benefits and protections of generally applicable laws.”