Pro-life groups hold out hope of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court decision on religious liberty in a high-profile legal challenge to the new federal health care law. Last week Supreme Court justices heard a challenge to
the constitutionality of the Obama Administration's contraceptive and abortion drug mandate.
Before the court were two cases that were combined for oral argument. One was filed by Hobby Lobby, the national craft store chain owned by David Green
and his family, who are outspoken evangelical Christians. The other was filed by Conestoga Woods, a Pennsylvania company that manufactures cabinets that is owned by the Hahn family, who are members of the Mennonite faith.
The core issue in the legal dispute surrounds a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. That section of the law delegated authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to determine the "essential benefits" to
be included in all health insurance policies issued in the United States.
With that authority, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a mandate that all health insurance plans include coverage (without copays or deductibles) of all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The scope of the Sebelius edict included abortifacient drugs and devices such as Ella and Plan B.
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods contend that it is a violation of their religious freedom to compel them to
underwrite the cost of drugs that destroy human life in the health insurance coverage they provide to their employees.
"No one should be forced to give up their constitutionally protected civil rights just to operate a family business," said Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the attorneys representing the Green family. "The government's efforts to strip this family of its religious rights is a gross violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment."
"The government has no business bullying family business owners into paying for other people's abortion pills," said Matt Bowman, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, the attorneys for Conestoga Woods. "No family business should be forced
to choose between following their faith and submitting to unlawful and unnecessary government mandates."
Joshua Hawley, a law professor who has worked with the Becket Fund in the Hobby Lobby case, points out that the company only objects to 4 of the 20 contraceptives mandated by Secretary Sebelius, and are covering the other 16.
"Hobby Lobby has no objection to its employees using whatever form of contraception they choose. Hobby Lobby is not asking that any contraceptive drug be made unavailable. It is simply asking not to be forced to pay for a handful of drugs that can cause abortions."
As expected, it appears that Justice Anthony Kenned
y will be the swing vote in the case. Kennedy's questions tested the veracity of both party's claims, but ended with a pointed comment to the U.S. government attorney, Solicitor General Donald Verilli. "Under your reasoning, a for-profit corporation could be required to pay for abortions."
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that while access to abortion is a constitutional right, the government has no obligation to pay for it. Under such reasoning, it is hard to conclude that the High Court would agree that the government could compel private parties to pay for abortions, or for drugs that accomplish the same purpose. Even moderate-to-liberal Justice Steven Breyer seemed troubled by the government's legal posture in the dispute.
We agree with several legal observers who speculate that Chief Justice John Roberts
may have suggested a more narrowly-drawn outcome to the case, which is his proven preference. Roberts questioned whether it might make sense to apply the religious freedom guarantees of RFRA and the First Amendment to closely held corporations owned by an individual or family, as opposed to large corporations with multiple stockholders of diverse religious convictions.
The abortion and contraceptive mandate carries with it backbreaking punitive penalties for failure to comply. A business that is found to be in noncompliance can be fined a total of $100 per employee per day. In the case of Hobby Lobby, which has 13,000 total employees, that amounts to $1.3 million per day, or $475 million annually. U.S. Senator Roy Blunt
of Missouri, a vocal opponent of the abortion drug mandate, was present in the courtroom for the oral arguments. In a press appearance later in the day, Blunt reinforced his position.
"The Obamacare mandate says, in effect, that you must give up your faith to keep your business or give up your business to keep your faith. That is not a choice that the government should be forcing on family-owned businesses." You can watch Senator Blunt's comments in this youtube video by clicking this link:Senator BluntCongresswoman Vicky Hartzler
of Missouri led a conversation with her colleagues on the floor of the
House of Representatives following the hearing before the Supreme Court. "Both the Greens and the Hahns are people of faith who believe that abortion ends a human life. Their companies face exorbitant fines for their failure to comply with this government edict--an unconscionable price to pay for following one's religious beliefs. This government mandate tramples on America's deeply held tradition of respecting the freedom of conscience."
You can watch a youtube video of Congresswoman Hartler's remarks during a press conference that day by using this link:Congresswoman Hartzler
We are thankful for the bold leadership of Senator Blunt and Congresswoman Hartzler in standing up for the religious liberties of business owners, who should not be required to abandon their religious freedoms when they enter the workplace. Please be praying for the U.S. Supreme Court justices as they privately deliberate over their ruling in these crucial religious liberty cases.