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Supreme Court To Take Up Another Challenge To Obamacare

The U.S. Supreme court is stepping back into the dual controversies of birth control and Obamacare.

The justices said Friday they would hear a challenge brought by faith-based hospitals, schools, and charities that contend the government's opt-out provision for birth-control coverage does not go far enough to accommodate their religious beliefs.

Under the Affordable Care Act, houses of worship are not required to provide birth-control coverage for their employees. But religious non-profits that run universities, hospitals, charities, and the like, are not exempt unless they notify the government that they are opting out of providing birth-control insurance coverage on religious grounds.

That opt-out notification allows the government to make arrangements with insurance companies to then offer the coverage independently, at no cost, to employees and students who do not subscribe to the same beliefs on birth control.

A variety of religious organizations, most of them Catholic, have challenged the opt-out notification, contending that it burdens their faith by activating substitute coverage. In short, they argue that the act of notification itself conscripts them into a system they object to on religious grounds.

The Obama administration counters that the refusal to notify amounts to a religious believer's veto of the rights of others who do not hold the same beliefs.

Seven-out-of-eight federal appeals courts have upheld the notification provision, agreeing that it is a the most feasible way of accommodating competing religious beliefs, while at the same time providing birth control coverage for those who want it.

The Court has twice upheld Obamacare, but in 2014 the justices, by a 5-to-4 vote ruled that some profit-making corporations with religious objections do not have to provide birth control coverage for their employees.

Now the opt-out notification system is on the chopping block. The justices are expected to hear arguments on the question in late March, with a decision expected by summer.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.