Washington, DC, United States (4E) – Conservative and liberal justices were divided during Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing of oral arguments over the Obamacare requirement for businesses to cover employees’ birth control.
Justice Antonin Scalia disputed the government’s argument that the First Amendment’s prohibition on the free exercise of religion does not apply to corporations. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. is representing the government in the case.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. also appeared to side with the plaintiffs, craft store chain Hobby Lobby and cabinetmaker Conestoga Wood Specialties. The owners of the two companies are seeking exemption from the Obamacare requirement that they include birth-control in their employee health plans because it violates their religious beliefs.
The owners contend that emergency contraceptives could endanger a fertilized egg, because they believe life begins at conception. Their lawyer, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, which protects an individual’s exercise of religion, extends to secular, for-profit corporations and their owners.
But Justice Elena Kagan disputed Clement’s argument saying companies could invoke religious beliefs in getting exemptions from any law. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that if corporations are exempted from providing birth-control services for their female employees, they can also seek exemption from vaccinations, blood transfusions and other medical and non-medical services that a company or its owners might find religiously objectionable.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy appeared neutral as he questioned both sides’ arguments.
As the hearing went, 300 activists for women’s rights and religious freedom gathered at the steps of the court. Supporters for exemption cited the First Amendment and the RFRA while supporters of the Obamacare mandate warned that a ruling against them could result in reduced access to contraception for millions of American women.