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Scalia’s death a blow to Obamacare contraception challengers

Demonstrators rallied at the Supreme Court on June 30, 2014 before the justices sided with the evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., ruling 5-4 that the arts-and-crafts chain does not have to offer insurance for types of birth control that conflict with company owners’ religious beliefs. Religion News Service photo by Heather Adams
Demonstrators rallied at the Supreme Court on June 30, 2014 before the justices sided with the evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., ruling 5-4 that the arts-and-crafts chain does not have to offer insurance for types of birth control that conflict with company owners’ religious beliefs. Religion News Service photo by Heather Adams

RNS photo by Heather Adams

Demonstrators rallied at the Supreme Court on June 30, 2014 before the justices sided with the evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., ruling 5-4 that the arts-and-crafts chain does not have to offer insurance for types of birth control that conflict with company owners’ religious beliefs. Religion News Service photo by Heather Adams

WASHINGTON  (Reuters)  Christian groups asking the U.S. Supreme Court to exempt them from the requirement to provide insurance covering contraception under President Barack Obama’s healthcare law face an uphill battle following Justice Antonin Scalia‘s death last month.

The remaining eight justices will consider seven related cases on whether nonprofit groups that oppose the requirement on religious grounds can object under the the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to a compromise version of the requirement offered by the Obama administration.

Among those mounting objections are the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns that runs care homes for the elderly.

The court, divided 4-4 between liberal and conservative justices without the conservative Scalia, is set to hear the case on Wednesday (March 23).

Scalia was considered a reliable vote for the religious groups. In 2014, he was in the majority when the court ruled 5-4 that family-owned companies run on religious principles, including craft retailer Hobby Lobby Stores Inc, could object to the provision for religious reasons.

If the four conservatives who sided with Scalia in that case remain unified, the best result the challengers could get would be a 4-4 split. That would leave in place lower-court rulings that favored the Obama administration.

“Unless the court’s four justices in the dissent in Hobby Lobby dramatically change their minds, the likely worst outcome for the government would be a 4-4 split,” said Gregory Lipper, a lawyer with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed a brief backing the Obama administration.

Lawyers for the challengers forecast that they can win, citing among other things the fact that women can obtain alternative coverage via Obamacare’s online marketplace.

“The idea that the government doesn’t have some other way to do this is really a pretty silly argument,” said Mark Rienzi, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters.

The Christian groups object to a compromise first offered by the federal government in 2013. It allows groups opposed to providing insurance covering contraception on religious grounds to comply with the law without actually paying for the coverage required by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.

Groups can certify they are opting out by signing a form, which they submit to the government. The government then asks insurers to pick up the tab.

The groups contend the accommodation infringes on their religious rights because it forces them to authorize the coverage for their employees, even if they are not paying for it.

A ruling is due by the end of June.


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12 Comments

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  • I still find it hard to wrap my head over the legal justification for the exemption let alone the ruling in regards to hobby lobby. There seems to be a huge difference in requiring access to contraception compared to forcing contraception on an individual person. The former gives the choice to the individual as opposed to the organization. Then again, how does one escape their own bias, even if they are supreme court justices or a simple person like myself.

  • Hobby Lobby was already neutered by amendment to the ACA which allow employees to seek their own insurance. The amendment is being fought over in SCOTUS. One which religious employers simply sign a paper saying they are not providing contraception but allows employees to get it on their own.

    The arguments against it are patently ridiculous and most posters here who do, depend largely on misrepresenting facts.

    It’s simply a matter of holier than thou busybodies annoyed that employees are seeking contraception and they can’t block it.

  • Scalia’s death was a blow to any of the minority who seek to control the most intimate details of the lives of all Americans. Scalia routinely voted against the Constitution in order to promote his own inappropriate desire to control other Americans’ lives.

  • An employer’s attempts to regulate their employees’ healthcare is not engaged in the exercise of religion and hence has no business doing so. “Little Sister of the Poor” is not so much a cleverly named conglomerate of do-gooders as a cleverly concealed vacuum cleaner sucking up public funds.

  • Please elaborate on how Scalia “voted against the Constitution”. I don’t believe that period.

  • I totally agree. The Obama Administration made a huge tactical mistake in acknowledging the ill-founded belief that requiring insurers to include birth control was somehow the work of religionists, and not merely a government mandate. No religionist is complicit in sin, if he’s following the law.

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