WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court heard Tuesday morning oral arguments for two challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that requires employers to include birth control in their employee health plans.
Activists on both sides of the issue clashed outside the courtroom in Washington. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union argued that business owners should not impede female workers from obtaining birth control free of charge in their health plans.
On the other side, conservative and Tea Party groups argued that businesses should be free to choose whether they want to comply with the law’s contraceptive mandate.
The case pits the government against two businesses that oppose types of birth control – such as “morning after” pills and some intrauterine devices – they consider to be forms of abortion, which is contrary to their religious beliefs. These firms face hefty fines for refusing to comply with the mandate.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration introduced new regulations that granted churches and houses of worship an exemption from providing contraceptives. Religiously affiliated organizations that fall somewhere in the middle can tell their insurance company or third-party administrator that they object on religious grounds. The insurer or administrator would then have to provide contraceptives to the employees at no cost.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) joined religious freedom activists who had spent the cold, snowy morning in Washington demonstrating in support of Hobby Lobby and the other plaintiffs in the case.
Cruz pointed out that the Obama administration had given exemptions to “big business” and members of Congress, but refused to do the same for people of faith.
“Those who walk the corridors of power in the Obama administration get an exemption,” he said. “And yet, the position of this administration is that people of faith do not deserve an exemption.”
He said that the case had nothing to do with the individual right to use birth control.
“No one is doubting that any person, if they choose to use contraceptives, can do so. This is not about that,” Cruz said. “This is about the federal government, whether they can force people of faith to violate their own faith by paying for something that is contrary to the dictates and teachings of their faith.”
Cruz predicted that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of religious freedom supporters.
“I predict that the United States Supreme Court is going to strike down the contraception mandate because they are going to say, ‘the federal government does not have the authority to force people to violate their faith particularly when they are granting exemptions to every other powerful interest,’” he said.