The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The case will decide if the Christian-owned company must comply with a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires for-profit companies to provide insurance to employees that pay for all forms of contraceptives approved by the FDA, according to a Huffington Post story.
Attorneys for Hobby Lobby argued that the law violates the company’s religious freedom by forcing it to provide insurance that pays for intrauterine devices and emergency contraception like the “morning after” pill. The owners of Hobby Lobby believe that such contraceptives are actually forms of abortion because they kill a human embryo. Scientific studies have disputed that claim.
The case, however, will not likely be decided on the merits of the science behind such a claim. Instead, the question is whether a for-profit company can be compelled to comply with the law. The Affordable Care Act does provide exemptions for churches and religious nonprofit organizations.
A story in the New Yorker reports that the female justices on the high court asked 28 of the first 32 questions of the day. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan asked whether other companies could cite religious reasons for not wanting to provide blood transfusions or vaccines.
"There are quite a number of medical treatments that could be religiously objected to," Kagan said. "Everything would be piecemeal, nothing would be uniform.”
She went on to note that if those items could be objected to then there was nothing to stop corporations from claiming religious objections to things like minimum wage laws.
Hobby Lobby’s lawyer, Paul D. Clement, responded that such challenges were unlikely and that there had never been a religious challenge to minimum wage laws.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who many expect to be the swing vote in the decision, followed Kagan’s reasoning and asked Clement why the company could not just give all employees a raise and allow them to purchase their own insurance. He seemed most concerned with the rights of the employees.
"How would we consider the rights of employees?" he asked. "The employees may not believe … in the religious beliefs of the employer.”
Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to side with Hobby Lobby when he asked why the government could not simply pay for the “three or four” kinds of birth control that Hobby Lobby objected to. "That's not terribly expensive, is it?" he asked.
Scalia, though, has seemed to agree with Kagan’s current reasoning in past cases concerning religious freedom. In the 1990 decision of Employment Division v. Smith, Scalia argued that liberally granting religious exceptions to laws would be “courting anarchy.”
“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” Scalia wrote at the time, according to U.S. News & World Report.
The reasoning of Kagan and even Scalia hint that the decision in the Hobby Lobby case could have implications that reach beyond issues of women’s health or the Affordable Care Act.
A decision in the case is expected this summer.