With the outcome of the case likely hinging on the decision of swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, each side heard hints he might go their way in either upholding or striking down the provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide their employees coverage that includes access to contraception.
Conservative members of the House said they expected the Supreme Court to agree that the law's provision violates employers' right to freely practice their religion by making them complicit in the purchase of contraceptives.
"No American should be forced to choose between their religious beliefs and the law, and that's what the president's healthcare law does," said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, at a press conference Tuesday. "Our Constitution demands the freedom for every American to freely practice their religion, in fact that right is named above all others."
But Democrats said the First Amendment actually means the opposite: That allowing a woman's employer to decide if she is allowed access to insurance-covered birth control is in fact a violation of her first amendment rights.
"it is offensive that an employer thinks it's OK to make health choices for their employees," said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., at a press conference held by the House Pro-Choice caucus.
"Under the law, Hobby Lobby doesn't have to pay one penny for contraceptives," she said. "The Hobby Lobby CEO has every right to personally oppose birth control, and not take it himself, but he has no right to tell his workers that they can't access an essential health benefit."
The Democrats also warned that overturning the provision on the grounds of religious freedom might open the door to employers and for-profit companies using religious exemptions for many other things they might find objectionable.
"If the court should grant that," warned Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., "it would have to reexamine the position that say that employers that have a religious objection to social security shouldn't have to pay into it, employers who have an objection to wars should only have to pay a fraction of their taxes, and individuals too, for that matter."
Besides, said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., getting in a dig at the Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision, "no matter how many times the Supreme Court tells me corporations are people, I'm just not going to believe it."
"Corporations are not people," she said. "But their employees sure are."
The case before the court are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.
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