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Supreme Court to Consider Health Care Law Contraception Mandate

By Todd Ruger, CQ Roll Call

November 6, 2015 -- The Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide another case about the contraception mandate in the health care overhaul law, this time involving a group of seven cases from Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious nonprofit groups.

The justices will hear the groups' challenge that the Obama administration violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act with its "accommodation" procedure for groups that have religious objections to some contraceptive methods.

The cases bring the health care law before the high court for the third term in a row. In the 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the court ruled 5-4 that closely held corporations did not need to comply with the mandate.

The law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) requires group health plans to provide coverage for contraceptives, but exempts some religious employers and small businesses. The government accommodation allows the religious nonprofit groups to shift that burden to their insurance company.

But the groups object to the government's requirement that they self-certify that they are a religious employer and have religious objections to providing some contraceptive methods. Failure to comply can mean millions of dollars in fines.

"These organizations do not merely object to paying for or being the direct provider of contraceptive coverage; they object to facilitating, or being complicit in, access to contraceptives; to paving the way for contraceptives to be provided under their plans; and to directly transferring their own obligations onto others," the petition from the Little Sisters states.

"Being forced to 'comply' with the mandate via the regulatory 'accommodation' is no more compatible with their religious beliefs than being forced to comply with that mandate directly," the petition states.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments and decide the case before the end of June. The decision is likely to be controversial and would come amid the 2016 presidential campaign.

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