By Elise Viebeck - 09/19/13 10:10 PM EDT
The ObamaCare birth control mandate appears headed to the Supreme Court after two separate cases on the contraception policy were referred Thursday to the justices.
The simultaneous appeals were filed by the U.S. government and a Mennonite cabinetmaking company that opposes the mandate that employers include birth control in their employee health plans.
The petitions come amid a growing split among circuit courts on the mandate, which requires most employers to cover a range of birth control methods for their workers.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for this perspective in June, while the Sixth and Third Circuit courts have sided with the Obama administration.
A total of 67 cases have been filed against the policy that involve more than 200 plaintiffs, according to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, an anti-mandate group.
The Fund represents the Christian-owned chain Hobby Lobby, which won the 10th Circuit victory against the coverage requirement and could see its case decided by the Supreme Court.
A lawyer for the group predicted Thursday that the justices would strike down the birth control policy, an outcome that would spare noncompliant companies from hefty fines.
"The United States government is taking the remarkable position that private individuals lose their religious freedom when they make a living," said the Becket Fund's Kyle Duncan in a statement.
"We're confident that the Supreme Court will … hold that religious freedom is for everyone, including people who run a business."
Owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, the other plaintiff that might be bound for the Supreme Court, argue they should not be required to include drugs they object to in their employee health plans.
The Obama administration argues that a secular company is not a vehicle for its owners' religious beliefs and therefore does not deserve the same protections as individuals.
The mandate was created to ensure that most working women have access to free birth control in their health plans.
Churches and houses of worship are exempt, and employees of religiously affiliated institutions will be able to obtain birth control directly from their insurance companies.
The administration has not sought an accommodation or exemption for secular, for-profit companies with religious owners.