Nightly News   |  November 26, 2013

Does requiring contraceptive coverage violate religious freedom?

The Supreme Court has already ruled that corporations have free speech rights – but do private companies also have freedom of religion? On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to look at a part of Obamacare that has prompted legal battles nationwide. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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>>> in other news, obama care is back at the supreme court . this time the question is about religion and whether this new health care law can require companies to offer contraceptives. our justice correspondent pete williams joins us from our washington bureau tonight with this latest challenge to the law. good evening.

>> reporter: good evening. the supreme court has already ruled that corporations have free speech rights. now it has agreed to take up a big question it has never answered before. do private companies also have freedom of religion ? the oklahoma family that owns the hobby lobby with more than 550 arts and crafts stores nationwide employing 13,000 people says the company is founded on religious principles.

>> we believe wholeheartedly that it's by god's grace that hobby lobby has been successful. therefore we seek to honor him in all that we do.

>> reporter: but the company says providing insurance coverage for contraceptive measures like the morn pg after pill is the equivalent of paying for abortion violating its religious freedom . a similar claim comes from a pennsylvania woodworking company owned by a mennonite family. but does a company even have freedom of religion . the lower courts are divided.

>> everybody agrees that some organizations and companies have to have some religious freedoms. take a church, take a religious hospital. the question we don't know is how far does that go? does it go to a craft store that happens to have religious owners?

>> reporter: other nonprofits have won exemptions from the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage but for-profit companies face stiff fines if they fail to comply.

>> freedom of religion is more than what you have in your head, it's your work, your family, your whole life. that's what the constitution framers had in mind starting out.

>> reporter: the obama administration says that nearly half of all pregnancies in the u.s. are unintended costing health care $5 billion a year. and women's groups say access to contraceptives is not just about birth control.

>> all contraceptives can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 50%. given that we have very few weapons against ovarian cancer , this is one that's very important for women.

>> reporter: the court will probably hear this case in late march with a decision some time before the end of june.

>> pete williams in our d.c. newsroom tonight. thanks.