WASHINGTON — U.S. Supreme Court justices are weighing whether corporations have religious rights that exempt them from part of the new health care law that requires coverage of birth control for employees at no extra charge.
The cases being argued at the Supreme Court on Tuesday involves family-owned companies that provide health insurance to their employees, but object to covering certain methods of birth control that they say can work after conception, in violation of their religious beliefs.
And while the cases do not involve any LGBT-specific health coverage, the decision in both may affect whether employers will be able to cite religious beliefs to deny such services as alternative insemination and gender reassignment.
The Obama administration and its supporters say a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the businesses also could undermine laws governing immunizations, Social Security taxes and minimum wages.
The justices have never before held that profit-making businesses have religious rights. But the companies in the Supreme Court case and their backers argue that a 1993 federal law on religious freedom extends to businesses as well as individuals.
Under the new health care law, health plans must offer a range of preventive services at no extra charge, including all forms of birth control for women that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Some of the nearly 50 businesses that have sued over covering contraceptives object to paying for all forms of birth control. But the companies involved in the high court case are willing to cover most methods of contraception, as long as they can exclude drugs or devices that the government says may work after an egg has been fertilized.
The largest company among them is Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., an Oklahoma City-based chain of more than 600 crafts stores in 41 states with more than 15,000 full-time employees. The company is owned by the Green family, evangelical Christians who say they run their business on biblical principles. The Greens also own the Mardel chain of Christian bookstores.
Members of the Green and Hahn families are expected to be in the courtroom. People have been in line since the weekend for a chance to see the argument, among the term’s biggest.
Lambda Legal and two other groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the two cases, saying they agree with the Obama administration that the ACA’s contraception coverage mandate “serve(s) compelling interests in public health and gender equality.” They also argue that allowing commercial enterprises, such as the Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood, to be vested with religious protections could be harmful.
“Corporate entities do not hold religious beliefs and do not engage in worship,” states the Lambda brief. And paying for health coverage “is not exercise of religion.”