Today the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases involving challenges to the HHS mandate, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.
In Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., the appeals court temporarily lifted the requirement that the craft-store chain provide contraceptive coverage for their workers. The company cited religious reasons.
A separate lower court ruled against Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., requiring the Pennsylvania company to follow the contraception rule.
The Obama administration wants the high court to resolve the split in the lower courts and uphold the contraception rule.
The White House released a statement Tuesday calling the requirement for private companies to provide contraceptive coverage “lawful and essential to women’s health.” It pointed to what it called a “commonsense” exception for religious institutions.
“These steps protect both women’s health and religious beliefs, and seek to ensure that women and families—not their bosses or corporate CEOs—can make personal health decisions based on their needs and their budgets,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney in the statement.
“This is a major step for the Greens and their family businesses in an important fight for Americans’ religious liberty,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead lawyer for Hobby Lobby, in a press release from the Becket Fund. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will clarify once and for all that religious freedom in our country should be protected for family business owners like the Greens.”
Hobby Lobby provides contraception to employees at no additional cost under the company’s health plan, but does not cover drugs and devices that may operate as abortifacients, as is required by the HHS mandate. Not complying with the mandate or dropping employee health coverage altogether would result in millions of dollars in fines for the company.
Conestoga Wood Specialties is owned by a Mennonite family from Pennsylvania that also objects to offering employees coverage for abortifacients. An appeals court denied the company’s claim earlier this year; the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal to that decision.
“The government shouldn’t be able to punish Americans for exercising their fundamental freedoms,” said David Cortman, senior counsel for Conestoga at the Alliance Defending Freedom. “The administration has no business forcing citizens to choose between making a living and living free. We trust the Supreme Court will agree. A government that forces any citizen to participate in immoral acts—like the use of abortion drugs—under threat of crippling fines is a government everyone should fear.”
The justices will hear oral arguments in the two cases next spring.