(CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Wednesday to issue a temporary injunction sought by private, profit-seeking companies that challenged the new health care law requirement that employers provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Hobby Lobby Stores, a nationwide arts and crafts chain with some 13,000 employees in more than 500 stores, and Mardel Inc., a chain of 35 Christian bookstores, challenged the provision, claiming it violates their religious freedom.
Although the legal fight over the merits of their challenge is continuing, the plaintiffs asked the high court to grant them a temporary injunction so they wouldn't be forced to provide the coverage as of Jan. 1, 2013, when the law goes into effect, or face fines for noncompliance.
Employees of both entities receive health insurance from the corporations' self-insured group health plans.
Justice Sonya Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from the courts hearing the companies' challenges, declined to grant their request.
In her brief, Sotomayor said the Supreme Court has never weighed in on similar freedom-of-religious claims brought by for-profit corporations objecting to mandatory provisions of employment benefits laws.
"Moreover, the applicants rightly recognize that Lower courts have diverged on whether to grant temporary relief to similarly situated plaintiffs raising similar claims," she wrote. "And no court has issued a final decision granting permanent relief with respect to such claims."
The "Obamacare" law requires business and organizations, except for religious entities such as churches, to provide access to contraception coverage. The plaintiffs claim they do not object to providing insurance coverage for every contraceptive, but do object to the so-called "morning-after pill," which they consider an abortifacient.
They claim that being forced to cover such drugs would violate to the company-owners' religious beliefs.
Lawyers for the two Oklahoma-based companies told the Supreme Court that their clients' failure to follow that provision of the law would expose them to "draconian fines unless they abandon their religious convictions."
In earlier rulings, the U.S. District Court for Western District of Oklahoma and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals both denied the companies' requests for injunctive relief, holding they failed to prove the requirement would "substantially burden" its religious freedom.
Sotomayor concluded by saying that even without an injunction pending appeal, the companies may continue their challenge to the regulations in the lower courts.
"Following a final judgment, they may, if necessary, file a petition for a writ of certiorari in this court," she added.
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