(Kjetil Ree: Flickr)
(Kjetil Ree: Flickr)

California officials are keeping a close eye on two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday that challenge a piece of the Affordable Care Act. Two businesses — including lead plaintiff Hobby Lobby, Inc — say the law’s requirement that their employee insurance plans pay for contraception violates the owners’ religious beliefs.

California already requires insurance plans to include coverage for contraception. Gov. Gray Davis signed the Contraceptive Equity Act into law in 1999. It requires that private insurance plans which cover prescription drugs must also pay for contraceptives. That law will remain in place, not matter what the Supreme Court decides.

But California’s attorney general’s office says the bigger issue is whether corporations can claim religious rights the way people can. If so, that raises troubling questions for other state laws that govern land use, housing, and employment. 

Jill Habig is special assistant attorney general who helped write a legal brief on behalf of California and 15 other states in the Supreme Court cases.

She says if companies can claim it’s against their religion to provide contraceptives, they might also claim it’s against their religion to hire married women. Or to serve lesbian and gay customers. “It would turn into a license to discriminate,” she says. “For example, wedding photographers could refuse access to LGBT couples for photography services.”

The Court is expected to issue its final ruling in June.


April Dembosky

April Dembosky covers health care news and trends across California for KQED's statewide program The California Report. She has reported extensively on the economics of health care, the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act in California, and aging and end-of-life issues. Her work is regularly rebroadcast on NPR and has been recognized with awards from the Third Coast International Audio Festival, the Society for Professional Journalists, and the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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