Supreme Court Preview: Birth Control Is the Next Front in Obamacare’s Legal Battles


The Supreme Court's last tangle with the Affordable Care Act sent a clear message: Like it or not, what some call Obamacare is here to stay.

Well, OK, maybe it wasn't a completely "clear" message. And sure, the threat of congressional repeal and legal attacks on the health care program as a whole continue to linger like a bad cold. But for now, the Affordable Care Act is out of intensive care, and its legal problems aren't immediately life-threatening.

That doesn't mean, however, that website problems and enrollment rates are the only issues the administration is currently dealing with.

On Tuesday, March 25, the justices will hear arguments on the issue of the law's preventive care requirements. Specifically, in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius they will scrutinize the requirement that certain companies provide their employees with health plans that cover FDA-approved contraception free of charge.

The challenge to this "contraceptive mandate" is brought by closely-held, for-profit companies whose owners claim that the requirement to provide birth control—namely, products like IUDs and morning-after pills that prevent implantation of an embryo, and which the plaintiffs consider a form of abortion—impinges on their religious freedom.

The crux of the issue is whether corporations have and can assert free exercise rights, a question that is complicated by the court's decision in Citizens United, broadening the protections afforded companies under the First Amendment's free speech clause.

But the claims don't stop there. The companies' owners also seek to assert their religious rights as individuals, a maneuver the government says misconstrues bedrock principles of corporate law, including the status of corporations as distinct legal entities.

The questions facing the court in this case are complex and the options available to the justices are many. Law Week's lead SCOTUS reporter Kimberly Robinson joins us for a breakdown of the case before the arguments next week.

[Oh, and just in case you didn't think this case is getting a lot of attention, here's a picture of all the briefs filed with the court. Keep in mind, the court allowed only one brief to be filed by each amicus for both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga.]


Hobby Lobby - Conestoga briefs Supreme Court