Officials from 15 states and the District of Columbia asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to uphold a new rule that requires large employers to insure birth control as part of their health plans.
Invalidating the rule, they said, would create a dangerous precedent that might allow corporations to flout other laws they don't like.
In a legal brief filed Wednesday, the states' attorneys general, all Democrats, said the Obama administration had the public's health in mind when it issued the so-called contraception mandate in conjunction with President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
They urged the Supreme Court not to dismantle the mandate after it hears arguments in March from two for-profit companies, who say the rule forces them to choose between their religion and proving health coverage to their employees.
Opponents of the mandate particularly object to insuring morning-after pills that they equate with abortion.
Conservative lawmakers have urged the court to strike down the mandate. They cite the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993, which was designed to thwart laws that infringe on the free exercise of religion.
But state officials in favor of the mandate said the justices would set a dangerous precedent by allowing corporate stakeholders or managers to exercise their beliefs in a way that blankets their secular companies.
"The fundamental point of organizing a business in corporate form is to separate the legal identity of the business from that of its shareholders or managers," they wrote. "Interpreting RFRA to allow a for-profit business corporation to assert religious free-exercise rights based on the personal beliefs of some group of individual shareholders or managers would be a startling departure from that norm."
Such a precedent, they added, also would undermine "effective enforcement of important health care, antidiscrimination, and other protections for state residents under federal and state laws."
The states that joined the District and signed onto the brief were California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
Houses of worship are exempt from the rule and religiously affiliated nonprofits were granted an “accommodation” that’s been accepted by some institutions, but not others.
Last week the Denver chapter of Little Sisters of the Poor won a key legal victory when the Supreme Court said the nuns and similarly situated organizations do not have to sign off on the coverage until their case is heard on its merits in a federal appeals court.
For-profit entities did not receive any form of relief, teeing up testy legal battles across the country and a split among the federal appeals courts.
The Supreme Court combined cases, both nominally filed against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, from two companies — Hobby Lobby, a crafts-supply chain that won its case at the circuit level, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania company that lost in the lower court.
Dozens of Republican lawmakers and a few Democrats signed onto friend-of-the court briefs in support of the companies, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and dozens of fellow congressional Democrats submitted a brief in support of the Obama administration.
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