Supreme Court takes up challenge to ObamaCare birth control mandate

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday accepted a challenge to ObamaCare's mandate requiring private businesses to offer their employees contraception as part of their insurance coverage.

The case centers on a controversial measure of the Affordable Care Act that business owners say violates their right to religious freedom by forcing them to pay for a service they find objectionable.

It will be the first time that the high court will revisit the healthcare law since last June, when it upheld the constitutionality of the overall law and affirmed a requirement that individuals carry health insurance or pay a penalty.

The court will hear the case this term, most likely in the spring.

The White House in a statement expressed confidence the court would hold up the mandate.

"We believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women’s health and are confident the Supreme Court will agree," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in the statement.

"As a general matter, our policy is designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor," the statement continued. "The president believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women."

Republicans have criticized the mandate, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he was pleased the court was considering the case.

"Faith-based employers, including Catholic charities, schools, universities, and hospitals, should not be forced to provide services that contradict their faith," Boehner said. "The administration’s mandate is an attack on religious freedom, and I’m hopeful it will be reversed by the Court.”

Earlier this year, the Christian-owned craft chain Hobby Lobby, which has argued that it should not be forced to offer its employees health insurance that covers birth control, won a victory in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was a major victory for opponents of the requirement, who say that it compels employers who object to contraception to violate their principles.

Both the Obama administration and David Green, the craft store’s owner, had asked the justices to take up the case, arguing that the high court should settle whether or not an individuals’ right to religious freedom extends to companies they own.

“This is a major step for the Greens and their family businesses in an important fight for Americans’ religious liberty,” Kyle Duncan, the general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby, said in a statement. “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 objects to covering forms of contraception that it says are similar to abortion.

A separate case brought by a Pennsylvania cabinetmaker, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., failed in the Third Circuit this summer.

Both cases will be before the Supreme Court when it considers the birth control mandate.

In a statement, NARAL Pro-Choice America, which supports the mandate, said that the court “will finally lay to rest the question of whether women's bosses get to decide if we deserve contraceptive coverage.”

“Allowing this intrusion into personal decisions by their employers opens a door that won’t easily be shut,” the organization added.

Dozens of other court challenges to the mandate have popped up around the country in recent months, increasing the pressure on the high court to review the controversial provision.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most employers are required to offer their workers health insurance that covers contraception among a range of other services. Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, and workers at religiously affiliated institutions can get the coverage directly through their insurance companies, rather than having to go through their employers.

But private secular companies owned by religious people are not exempt. Critics of the ObamaCare provision say that that is a violation of their religious freedoms.

This report was posted at 11:57 a.m. and updated at 2:27 p.m.