The United States’ highest court is set to rule Monday on a employee birth control clause in President Barack Obama’s landmark health reforms, weighing the right of women to choose family planning against the desire of religious employers to refuse to provide it.
In one of the most closely watched cases of the year, the nine justices of the Supreme Court is expected to publish its decision as early as 10 a.m. ET over a challenge to a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that mandates that employees cover contraception for women at no extra charge in company health plans.
Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based arts and craft firm run by evangelical Christians, and Mennonite-owned furniture maker Conestoga Wood Specialties, have both objected to the insurance requirement, saying it is as a violation of a 1993 religious-freedom law.
Obama's 2010 health care law already exempts churches and religious-run entities from the contraceptive mandate, but does not extend that caveat to private firms operated by those of certain faiths.
The companies, and others involved in related lawsuits, do not oppose every type of birth control. Some object only to emergency contraceptive methods, such as the "morning-after" pill, which they view as akin to abortion.
The Obama administration contends that for-profit corporations do not exercise religious rights as individuals do and are not covered by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
During oral arguments in March, the justices seemed split along ideological lines, with the five conservative justices suggesting they might be ready to rule that certain for-profit entities have the same religious rights to object to federal requirements as individuals do.
But on the eve of the ruling, a new poll suggested that most Americans are opposed to letting employers exclude certain contraceptives from workers' insurance coverage based on their faith.
The Reuters/Ipos survey asked whether bosses should be able to choose what forms of family planning their firm’s health plans provide based on their religious beliefs. Of those responding, 53 percent said no, while 35 percent said yes, and 12 percent said they didn’t know.
The case in front of the Supreme Court justices brings to the forefront thorny questions of religious freedom and reproductive rights. But it also has an element of the politicking over Obama’s signature health care law — an act that many Republicans have vowed to block or unravel. The act itself was in large part upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012.
Al Jazeera and wire services