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Catholics Respond to Supreme Court Hearings on Affordable Care Act

November 26, 2013

Today, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear two challenges to the contraceptive coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act. (For details of the cases involved, see below.)

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said of the announcement, “The court’s decision in these cases could have far-reaching implications—not only for employees’ right to decide on the healthcare they need according to their own beliefs and not those of their employer. The final ruling could also have a severe impact upon an employee’s right to make any personal decision with which an employer may disagree: the choice to have an abortion, to become pregnant using in vitro fertilization, whether to cohabit, to marry a person of the same sex, to have a child as a single woman, to have a blood transfusion, to donate to stem-cell research or to be remarried after a divorce.”

O’Brien continued, “Catholic bishops around the country have been closely involved in the challenges to the contraceptive coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act playing out in the courts and in the media. This is despite the incontrovertible fact that the majority of Catholics support birth control coverage in insurance. This view isn’t surprising since 98 percent of Catholic women have used a birth control method of which the bishops don’t approve.

“Catholics know all too well the dangers of allowing a small but vocal minority to attempt to impose its religious viewpoint upon all people. Our bishops, having failed to convince the majority of us to follow their dictates on reproductive health, sexuality and marriage, have attempted to codify their extremist stances into secular law, and thus, impose their will not only on Catholics, but on all Americans. If they and their allies are successful here, it will undermine the religious liberty of every employee in the country.

“We hope that the Supreme Court will confirm the understanding held by the majority of Catholics, and all Americans, who believe that using contraception is a decision for an individual to make based on her conscience. Americans believe that this decision should not be coerced or thwarted by an employer’s belief system, nor should an employee find it harder to obtain contraception just because of where she or he works. What is at stake in these cases is every American’s right of conscience and religious liberty.”

The Supreme Court was presented with four possible lawsuits on this issue to consider in this term: Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius and Liberty University v. Lew. Three of these cases—Hobby Lobby, Conestoga and Autocam—involved for-profit corporations. The other case, Liberty University, involved a nonprofit.

The cases that the Supreme Court has chosen to take up are as follows:

Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby was appealed to the Supreme Court by the United States Department of Justice after the Tenth Circuit ruled that the contraceptive coverage requirement should be struck down because it burdened the corporation. Hobby Lobby, which is owned by a family of nondenominational Christians, is a for-profit craft store chain headquartered in Oklahoma. The company owns more than 500 stores nationwide and employs approximately 17,000 full-time workers.

Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius was appealed to the Supreme Court by the plaintiffs, the Mennonite owners of a for-profit, Pennsylvania-based custom cabinetry company. The appeal followed a Third Circuit ruling that Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation did not have a right to religious exercise and that its owners similarly did not have a right to object to the contraceptive coverage requirement based on religious liberty claims.

Catholics for Choice and signatories from a wide range of faith traditions have signed onto amicus briefs in both these cases arguing that corporations cannot exercise the religious liberty rights that properly belong to individuals, and that an extension of these rights to corporations would undermine the guarantee of Americans’ rights to freedom of and freedom from religion.