The Craft of Contraception Rights: SCOTUS to Hear Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby
By most accounts, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been incredibly rocky. Even as problems with Healthcare.gov have stabilized and enrollment numbers have increased across the nation, the law, alternatively called ‘Obamacare,’ is being hit with numerous lawsuits challenging its various provisions. One such notable lawsuit is Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and it has arrived at the Supreme Court.
The case pits Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius against arts and crafts giant Hobby Lobby, and it underscores the fierce resistance by some companies to the 2010 law. The heart of the case lies in the issue of whether or not the ACA’s provision forcing employers to cover contraception as a part of employee-based health care is an attack on religious freedom. Hobby Lobby Stores filed a suit against the United States in September 2012 citing the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by President Clinton in 1993.
The Free Exercise Clause, if anyone needs reminding, states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” As for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the gist of the bill is that it prevents the government from passing legislation that would make it extremely hard for someone to exercise their religion. In this case, Hobby Lobby claims that the ACA makes it too difficult for the family of ownership (the Greens) to exercise their religion due to the provision of contraceptive medication in employee’s healthcare premiums. It is important to note here that there is no explicit mention of contraception coverage in the wording of the healthcare bill.
The arts and crafts chain store only took their case to the next level after the Supreme Court refused to grant an injunction excusing Hobby Lobby from providing contraception coverage, saying simply, “Applicants do not satisfy the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief they seek.” Then, in July 2013, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton provided the Green family an exemption from the “contraceptive mandate.” In his ruling, Judge Heaton said:
Given the importance of the interests at stake in this case, the fact that the ACA’s requirements raise new and substantial questions of law and public policy, and that substantial litigation as to the mandate at issue here is ongoing around the country, the court concludes there is an overriding public interest in the resolution of the legal issues raised by the mandate before Hobby Lobby and Mardel are exposed to the substantial penalties that are potentially applicable. The public interest therefore lies in preserving the status quo until the issues raised by plaintiffs’ claims are resolved.
The tables were turned on Hobby Lobby when the Center for Inquiry filed its own amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in January 2014. In the brief, the Center cited the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the same basis of argument used by Hobby Lobby, stating that the government cannot make an exception on religious grounds for one company. With the Supreme Court granting certiorari since November 2013, many are eager to see the result of this massively influential case, and the next arguments are scheduled for March 25.
Dennis Futoryan (@dfutoryan) is an undergrad with an eye on a bright future in the federal government. Living in New York, he seeks to understand how to solve the problematic issues plaguing Gothamites, as well as educating the youngest generations on the most important issues of the day.
Featured image courtesy of [DangApricot via Wikipedia]