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Obamacare contraception: Could religious exemption be headed to Supreme Court?

Sharp disagreement between US appeals courts suggests the issue of religious exemptions for the Obamacare contraception requirement could be on a fast track to the Supreme Court.

By Staff writer / July 26, 2013

A pharmacist Simon Gorelikov holds a generic emergency contraceptive, also called the morning-after pill, at the Health First Pharmacy in Boston.

Elise Amendola/AP/File

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For-profit, secular corporations may not claim a religious exemption from providing employees with certain methods of contraception as required under President Obama’s health-care mandate, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

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In a 2-to-1 decision, the panel of the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that although corporations have free speech rights under the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, they do not enjoy the protections of the free exercise of religion.

“We simply cannot understand how a for-profit, secular corporation – apart from its owners – can exercise religion,” Judge Robert Cowen wrote for the two-judge majority.

The case is one of 60 lawsuits across the country challenging the contraceptive portion of the employer health-care mandate on religious grounds.

Last month, the full Tenth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case involving the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores that for-profit, secular corporations can claim the protections of religious freedom.

That court upheld an injunction blocking the required provision of contraceptive methods that offended the company owners’ religious beliefs.

The sharp disagreement between the appeals court in Philadelphia and the Tenth Circuit in Denver suggests that the dispute may now be on a fast track for review at the US Supreme Court

Friday’s decision comes in a case filed by the owners of a Pennsylvania furniture company, all members of the same family and all devout Mennonites.

The owners objected to being forced to pay for contraception methods that they consider abortifacients.

The mandate, which took effect in January, forced the owners to choose between violating their religious beliefs or facing the destruction of their business through fines of $95,000 a day.

The company, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, employs 950 workers. It provides a health insurance plan for employees in line with mandated health insurance coverage, but the owners objected on religious grounds to inclusion of certain kinds of contraceptives that involve destruction of a fertilized egg.

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