The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear appeals brought by Christian groups demanding full exemption from the requirement to provide insurance covering contraception under President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.
The nine justices will consider seven related cases on whether nonprofit groups that oppose the requirement on religious grounds can object under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to a compromise measure offered by the Obama administration.
Among those mounting objections are various Roman Catholic groups in Washington, D.C., including the Roman Catholic archdiocese and Catholic University of America. Another petition was filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns that runs care homes for the elderly. Some groups belonging to other Christian denominations also objected.
By agreeing to hear the cases, the justices will once again wade into the controversial subject of how to weigh religious objections to the contraceptive requirement.
In 2014, the court ruled 5-4 that family-owned companies run on religious principles, including craft retailer Hobby Lobby Stores Inc, could object to the provision on religious grounds.
The religious groups object to a compromise offered by the federal government in 2013. That compromise allows groups that oppose the requirement for religious reasons to comply without actually paying for the coverage required by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.
Groups can certify they are opting out, which then forces insurers to pick up the tab. If a group refuses to comply with the law, they can face financial penalties, including a $100 charge per day for every affected employee who is refused contraception coverage.
The groups that sued have argued that the process of getting certified for an exemption still infringes on their religious rights because it essentially forces them to authorize the coverage for their employees, even if they are not paying for it.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in March and issue a ruling before its term ends in June.
The latest dispute is just the most recent in a series of legal challenges to the healthcare law. The Supreme Court narrowly rejected two major conservative challenges to the law in 2012 and, most recently, June this year. The contraception case will have no bearing on the broader fate of Obamacare.