House Dems enter legal fray over ObamaCare birth-control mandate

Scores of House Democrats entered the legal fight over ObamaCare's birth-control mandate Tuesday, filing an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in defense of the contentious coverage requirement.

Behind House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the lawmakers say the provision – which requires most employers to cover birth control for their workers – does not infringe on religious freedoms, as the Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned retail chain, contends in its lawsuit.

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“The contraceptive coverage requirement does not substantially burden any exercise of religion in which the Corporations might be found to engage because it does not compel the Corporations to administer or use the contraceptive methods to which they object, nor does it require them to adhere to, affirm, or abandon a particular belief," the Democrats wrote. 

"It merely requires the Corporation, like other for-profit employers to provide comprehensive insurance coverage under which their employees may make their own personal decisions whether to use whatever form of contraception, if any, best suits their individualized health and wellness needs."

Aside from Pelosi, other leading signatories include Democratic Reps. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), Diana DeGette (Colo.), Steny Hoyer (Md.), John Conyers (Mich.), George Miller (Calif.), Henry Waxman (Calif.), Sander Levin (Mich.) and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.).

In all, 91 House Democrats endorsed the brief.

They are hardly alone in entering the legal battle over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act provision. 

Also on Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and 18 other Senate Democrats filed a similar brief in defense of the contraception mandate. Across the aisle, 15 Republicans from both the House and Senate submitted their own "friend of the court" brief, siding with the Hobby Lobby that the provision violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). 

"Religious freedom should not be a political issue," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who led the GOP brief, said Tuesday in a statement. "It is one of our country’s founding principles, and I’m hopeful that the Supreme Court will reconfirm that our country will not stand for forcing one’s beliefs onto others who may morally object to them."

At issue is a provision of the Democrats' healthcare reform law requiring employers to cover their workers' preventative services – a category the Health and Human Services Department has said must include contraception. 

The mandate sparked an immediate outcry from Republicans, some Democrats and religious groups – particularly the Catholic Church – and led Obama to tweak the rule so that women's contraceptive services remain free, but the cost will be absorbed by the employer's insurance company, not the employer itself.

The Hobby Lobby's suit is just one of many challenging the requirement on religious grounds.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear opening arguments in the case on March 25.