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Challenges to Obama birth control mandate could go to Supreme Court

A requirement in the Affordable Care Act mandating most employers to provide contraception for free with health care coverage, has sparked dozens of lawsuits from both religious organizations, and business owners. The Department of Health and Human Service is working to accommodate faith-based groups.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks in Bethesda, Md., in May 2012. The legal challenges over religious freedom and the birth control coverage requirement in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul appear to be moving toward the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jose Luis Magana/AP/File

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The legal challenges over religious freedom and the birth control coverage requirement in President Barack Obama's health care overhaul appear to be moving toward the U.S. Supreme Court.

Faith-affiliated charities, hospitals and universities have filed dozens of lawsuits against the mandate, which requires employers to provide insurance that covers contraception for free. However, many for-profit business owners are also suing, claiming a violation of their religious beliefs.

The religious lawsuits have largely stalled, as the Department of Health and Human Services tries to develop an accommodation for faith groups. However, no such offer will be made to individual business owners. And their lawsuits are yielding conflicting rulings in appeals courts around the country.

"The circuits have split. You're getting different, conflicting interpretations of law, so the line of cases will have to go to the Supreme Court, " said Carl Esbeck, a professor at the University of Missouri Law School who specializes in religious liberty issues.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that Obama's fiercely contested health care overhaul, known as the Affordable Care Act, was constitutional. But differences over the birth control provision in the law have yet to be resolved.

Under the requirement, most employers, including faith-affiliated hospitals and nonprofits, have to provide health insurance that includes artificial contraception, including sterilization, as a free preventive service. The goal, in part, is to help women space pregnancies as a way to promote health.

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