WASHINGTON – The United States Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether Christian-owned businesses should be exempted from the abortion pill mandate in Obamacare if the requirement violates their faith.
The court announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to hear two cases: Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.
As previously reported, the Obama administration had filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in September in an effort to force the popular craft chain Hobby Lobby to comply with the abortion pill mandate in Obamacare. It asked the court to overturn a preliminary injunction that was granted to the company this past July.
Hobby Lobby first began its fight last year, seeking to obtain an exemption from covering two contraceptives that its owners believe cause abortions: the morning-after and week-after pill. The company currently provides birth control coverage to its employees and takes no issue with contraceptives in general.
“These abortion-causing drugs go against our faith, and our family is now being forced to choose between following the laws of the land that we love or maintaining the religious beliefs that have made our business successful and have supported our family and thousands of our employees and their families,” CEO David Green wrote in a statement last year. “We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate. … By being required to make a choice between sacrificing our faith or paying millions of dollars in fines, we essentially must choose which poison pill to swallow.”
After a long battle in the court system of continuous denials, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the rejection of the injunction this past summer, ruling that Hobby Lobby’s status as a business does not disqualify its owners from living out their faith.
“A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values,” the three-judge panel wrote. “As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other.”
Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, the plaintiff in the second case that was accepted, filed suit last December against the mandate, stating that it has never provided insurance coverage for medications that induce abortions, and doesn’t plan on doing so. It explained that terminating a life after conception violates its sincerely-held Mennonite beliefs, stating that it “is an intrinsic evil and a sin against God.”
However, a federal judge appointed by George W. Bush rejected the corporation’s request for an injunction, stating that for-profit businesses that are secular in nature cannot be considered religious entities, and are thus not entitled to an exemption.
“It would be entirely inconsistent to allow the Hahns to enjoy the benefits of incorporation, while simultaneously piercing the corporate veil for the limited purpose of challenging these regulations,” Judge Mitchell Goldberg wrote.
The case was then appealed to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, but in a 2 to 1 decision, Goldberg’s denial was upheld. Therefore, attorneys for Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation filed a petition with the nation’s highest court, asserting that the district court and appeals court are out of step with other circuits across the country. Attorney generals for eighteen states also filed briefs to urge the court to accept the appeal.
Attorneys for both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation applauded the Supreme Court on Tuesday for agreeing to hear the matter.
“This is a major step for the Greens and their family businesses in an important fight for Americans’ religious liberty,” stated Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for Hobby Lobby. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will clarify once and for all that religious freedom in our country should be protected for family business owners like the Greens.”
“The government shouldn’t be able to punish Americans for exercising their fundamental freedoms,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel David Cortman, who represents Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation. “The administration has no business forcing citizens to choose between making a living and living free. We trust the Supreme Court will agree. A government that forces any citizen to participate in immoral acts—like the use of abortion drugs—under threat of crippling fines is a government everyone should fear.”