By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to consider religious objections made by corporations to a provision of Obamacare requiring employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control.
Oral arguments will likely be scheduled for March, with a ruling due by June.
The so-called contraception mandate of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, requires employers to provide health insurance policies that include preventive services for women that include access to contraception and sterilization.
The key question before the court in the two cases it agreed to hear is whether corporations should be treated the same as individuals when making free exercise of religion claims under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and a 1993 federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
One of the cases was filed by arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby Stores Inc and Mardel, a chain of Christian bookstores. Both are owned and operated by David and Barbara Green and their children, who are evangelical Christians. The administration of President Barack Obama sought the high court's review in that case after losing before a federal appeals court.
The other case was brought by a Mennonite family that owns a company in Pennsylvania, Conestoga Wood Specialties. The company, which lost in federal appeals court, is owned and operated by Norman and Elizabeth Hahn and their three sons.
The court took no action on a third case filed by Michigan companies Autocam Corp and Autocam Medical LLC.
The cases are not a direct challenge to the mandate itself. The question is whether closely held companies owned by individuals who object to the provision on religious grounds can be exempted from the requirement.
The legal questions surrounding U.S. Health and Human Services regulations issued under the preventive health provisions of the Obamacare law have not previously been before the court. In June 2012, the justices upheld the constitutionality of the law's core feature that requires people to get health insurance on a 5-4 vote.
The cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-354, 13-356.