Obamacare Opens Can of Worms Over Religious Freedom in America

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The issue of religious freedom is getting a large amount of press time in the United States — with one portion of the Affordable Care Act, the requirement that companies subject to the employer mandate provide workers with policies covering contraception, heading to the Supreme Court. One of the explicit purposes of the healthcare reform was to improve the quality of health insurance policies. To guarantee that insurers no longer offer the so-called bare bones plans, the Affordable Care Act mandated the policies provide ten essential benefits, including mental health care and contraceptives. While ostensibly a sweeping attempt to ensure all Americans have access to the services they need without having to pay an unaffordable premium, religious groups have seen the mandated insurance coverage of contraceptives, including potential life-ending drugs like the Plan B pill, as a threat to religious freedom.

In November, the Supreme Court agreed to examine another challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. After President Barack Obama signed the healthcare reform into law on March 2010, fourteen state attorneys general filed lawsuits against the law’s require that most Americans to purchase health insurance on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. But in July 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan in deciding the law — which requires that Americans who can afford to buy health care insurance do so or face a tax penalty — as a valid exercise of Congress’s power to tax.

Since the law’s passage, nearly 50 pending lawsuits have been filed in federal court from various corporations challenging the birth control coverage mandate, and three federal appeals courts in Chicago, Denver, and Washington D.C. have struck down the contraception coverage rule while two other appeal courts have upheld the provision. The fact that there was a “circuit split” made a Supreme Court review even more likely, even though the court agreed to hear only two particular cases involving for-profit corporations: the craft store chain Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp.

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