Supreme Court To Tackle ACA Contraceptive Coverage Cases
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court announced it will hear challenges to the federal contraceptive coverage rules from arts-and-crafts retail chain Hobby Lobby and cabinet maker Conestoga Wood Specialties, the AP/Washington Post reports (Barnes, AP/Washington Post, 11/26).
In hearing the cases, the high court will weigh whether corporations can exercise religious rights.
The contraceptive coverage rules require most for-profit, private businesses to offer contraceptive coverage in their employer-sponsored health plans. Hobby Lobby, Conestoga and many other companies challenging the requirement argue that it goes against their owners' personal religious beliefs and violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which "protects a person's exercise of religion."
The high court also will consider whether the First Amendment's free exercise clause may apply to for-profit businesses (Wolf, USA Today, 11/26).
Supreme Court expert Tom Goldstein, publisher of SCOTUSblog, said, "This case presents, front and center for the justices to decide, a question that's been open for a long time: Do companies, not just people and churches, have religious freedom?" (Williams, NBC News, 11/26). The cases likely will be heard in March, according to SCOTUSblog (Denniston, SCOTUSblog, 11/26).
EC Research Counters Claims in Supreme Court Cases
In related news, a change by European regulators to the label of an emergency contraceptive contradicts claims by private companies challenging the federal contraceptive coverage rules before the Supreme Court, the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, the plaintiffs' religious objection to offering their employees contraceptive coverage is rooted in their opposition to EC. They claim that the drugs can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, which they believe is tantamount to an abortion.
However, European health authorities have altered the label of the EC product Norlevo to say that the drug "cannot stop a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb." Although Norlevo is not available in the U.S., Plan B One-Step and two generic versions that are available in the U.S. are identical to it.
The labels of the U.S. EC pills, which all contain the drug levonorgestrel, state that they work mostly by preventing ovulation, but they also say the drugs might inhibit fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus.
The Times last year detailed studies providing strong evidence that levonorgestrel cannot prevent implantation. Later, NIH and the Mayo Clinic removed references to blocking implantation from their websites, and FDA spokesperson Erica Jefferson said that "the emerging data on Plan B suggest that it does not inhibit implantation."
On Tuesday, Jefferson reiterated that view. However, the agency has not yet moved to change the labels of the U.S. ECs, saying that the drugmakers need to request the change.
Plan-B One Step manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals declined to comment. It has said before that scientific evidence suggests the pill cannot interfere with implantation (Belluck, New York Times, 11/26).
Polls: Most U.S. Residents Support Contraceptive Coverage
Also in related news, public opinion polls show that most U.S. residents support the contraceptive coverage requirement, including on the specific issue of whether secular corporations should have to offer the coverage, according to the Washington Post's "The Fix."
A March 2012 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that U.S. residents "overwhelmingly" supported the requirement for publicly held organizations, by a 62% to 33% margin, "The Fix" reports.
In addition, 53% said privately owned, small businesses should be required to offer contraceptive coverage in their health plans at no cost to beneficiaries, while about 43% said such companies should not.
A separate Washington Post-ABC News poll from March 2012 found that while U.S. residents are less supportive of requiring places of worship -- which are exempted from the rules -- to cover contraceptives, they "broadly favored" the idea that insurance companies be required to provide such coverage at no cost for women. The poll found 61% agreed with the requirement, while 35% opposed it (Sullivan/Clement, "The Fix," Washington Post, 11/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.