(CNN) — A key provision of the health care reform law championed by President Barack Obama came under harsh criticism from the conservative majority on the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The justices were debating a hotly contested issue testing the limits of government-mandated contraception coverage, specifically involving for-profit corporations that object to it for religious reasons.
The justices appeared divided along ideological lines in a 90-minute oral argument, with the federal government offering a spirited defense of the Affordable Care Act.
Before the hearing began, hundreds of demonstrators representing both sides of the issue rallied in front of the courthouse.
The court is reviewing provisions of the Affordable Care Act requiring for-profit employers of a certain size to offer insurance benefits for birth control and other reproductive health services without a co-pay.
At issue is whether certain companies can refuse to do so on the sincere claim it would violate their owners’ long-established personal beliefs.
Two separate appeals are being heard together.
A ruling expected by late June could clarify whether businesses have a religious liberty right, or whether such constitutional protections apply only to individuals.
The cases involve two appeals from Conestoga Wood Specialties. The companion legal challenge comes from Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based retail giant that will have more than 700 arts and crafts stores nationwide by year’s end.
Both corporations emphasize their desire to operate in harmony with biblical principles while competing in a secular marketplace. That includes their leaders’ publicly stated opposition to abortion.
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