High court denies Liberty's Obamacare appeal
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Liberty University's challenge to portions of the 2010 health care reform law has died quietly at the U.S. Supreme Court –- at least for now.
The high court announced Dec. 2 it had denied Liberty's request that it review a lower court decision upholding aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The law requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide health insurance or face stiff penalties. The university's suit also challenged the required funding of abortion by individuals under the law and the abortion/contraception mandate implemented to enforce the ACA.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed 103 of the 112 insurance plans offered under the ACA to members of Congress and their staffs cover elective abortions -- a development criticized by pro-life advocates as a violation of federal law.
Liberty University, located in Lynchburg, Va., appealed the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' rejection of its arguments against the controversial health care law. The Supreme Court disclosed without comment it would not review the ruling by the Fourth Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Va.
The Supreme Court's announcement in the Liberty case came less than a week after the justices agreed to review challenges to the abortion/contraception mandate. The court announced Nov. 27 it would rule on the constitutionality of the Obama administration's requirement that for-profit employers provide contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs, for their workers.
Mat Staver, dean of Liberty's law school and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said the university will wait until the Supreme Court rules in the abortion/contraception mandate cases next year before deciding whether to revive its challenge.
"The Liberty University case would make strong arguments that the employer mandate could not be upheld as a tax because the penalties are exorbitantly high and punitive," Staver said in a written statement.
Staver said the justices "could side-step" the issue in the abortion/contraception mandate "by deciding that for-profit corporations do not have free exercise of religion rights." He hopes the high court will "strike down this most egregious trampling of the free exercise of religion," Staver said.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments no sooner than March involving divided opinions on the abortion/contraception mandate from two appeals court circuits: The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled in favor of the religious freedom rights of Hobby Lobby and its sister corporation Mardel, Oklahoma City-based retail chains owned by the pro-life evangelical Christian Green family, while the Third Circuit in Philadelphia decided against Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania business owned by pro-life Mennonites.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the abortion/contraception mandate, which requires coverage of such drugs as Plan B and other "morning-after" pills that possess a post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers "ella," which -- in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 -- can act even after implantation to end the life of the child. HHS provided an exemption to the rule for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, non-profit organizations and for-profit companies that object.
The Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood suits are only two of 87 challenges of the abortion/contraception mandate by for-profit and non-profit employers.
Meanwhile, the disclosure that only nine of 112 insurance plans offered to congressional members and staff in the District of Columbia's health care exchange do not cover abortion violates a 30-year-old amendment initiated by Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J. The Smith Amendment, an annual spending measure first enacted in 1983 that has been in effect most years since, prohibits federal funds from being used for "abortion, or the administrative expenses in connection with any health plan under the Federal employee health benefits program which provides any benefits or coverage for abortions."
During the push to pass the ACA, "Americans were repeatedly told and reassured by President Obama himself, including in a speech to a joint session of Congress in October 2009, that 'under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortion,'" Smith said in a written release.
"Once again we see those promises ring hollow -- what the President said simply isn't true today," Smith said.
Members of Congress and their staffs must sign up for health insurance by Dec. 9.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).