Supreme Court Nixes Blocking Provision Covering Contraceptives in Health Care Law

The opening salvo in what’s likely to be a long legal battle over women’s health issues:

– The U.S. Supreme Court declined Wednesday to put a temporary hold on a controversial provision in the new health care law requiring employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Two businesses challenging the act — the nationwide chain of 500 Hobby Lobby Stores and Mardel, a chain of Christian bookstores — contended that the law violates their religious freedom. Their legal battle is continuing over the merits of their claim. In the meantime, they asked the US Supreme Court to put a temporary hold on the law, which takes effect January 1, 2013.

On Wednesday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from the courts where the companies are based, declined to grant an injunction.

In a brief written opinion, she said the Supreme Court has never addressed similar freedom-of-religion claims brought by for-profit corporations objecting to mandatory provisions of employment benefit laws.

“Lower courts have diverged on whether to grant temporary injunctive relief to similarly situated plaintiffs,” she said, “and no court has issued a final decision granting permanent relief with respect to such claims.”

If the two companies ultimately lose in the lower courts, the justice said, they can still appeal to the Supreme Court.

More cases most assuredly to follow…