The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday considers whether business owners can object on religious grounds to a provision of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law that requires employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control.
In one of the biggest cases of the year, the nine justices will hear an extended 90-minute oral argument, with the extra 30 minutes the court added to the usual hour-long session hinting at the complexity of the legal issues involved.
The case pits religious rights against reproductive rights, with a heavy dose of politics added to the mix. A capacity crowd will fill the marble courtroom, with many demonstrators expected outside.
Although mainstream and liberal Jewish groups overwhelmingly back the measure, some Orthodox groups side with the plaintiffs’ claim that they should not have to provide coverage for contraception if if violates religious precepts.
Even the main lawyers in the case, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli for the Obama administration and Paul Clement for the religious employers, are familiar names. They argued against each other the last time the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, was before the justices in 2012.
In that case, the justices upheld by a 5-4 vote the constitutionality of Obamacare’s core feature that requires people to get health insurance.
The dozens of companies involved in the litigation do not all oppose every type of birth control. Some object only to emergency contraceptive methods, such as the so-called morning-after pill, which they view as akin to abortion.
The case also touches on questions of corporate rights four years after the court, in a case called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, endorsed broad free-speech rights for companies in the campaign finance context.
A ruling is expected by the end of June.
The so-called “contraception mandate” of the healthcare law requires employers to provide in their health insurance policies preventive services for women that include access to contraception and sterilization.