In a dramatic moment at the Supreme Court Tuesday, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli told justices that U.S. business owners have no religious freedom to reject government mandates forcing them to cover abortions.

Justices and lawyers also sparred over whether businesses actually have religious freedom and whether striking down the Obamacare mandate makes women second-class citizens.

The notable abortion exchange between Verrilli and Justice Anthony Kennedy came during oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, two cases linked by the companies’ owners objecting to the Department of Health and Human Services requirement that businesses fully cover the contraception costs for their employees. That mandate includes coverage of abortafacient drugs, also known as the “morning-after pill.”

Family Research Council Senior Fellow for Legal Studies Cathy Ruse was in the gallery during oral arguments and said that was the most remarkable moment in the court session Tuesday.

“This was actually the most exciting part of the oral argument this morning, when Justice Kennedy asked the government’s lawyer, ‘So under your argument, corporations could be forced to pay for abortions, that there would be no religious claim against that on the part of the corporation. Is that right?’ And the government’s attorney said yes,” Ruse said.

“You could hear a pin drop, and I think that stunned Justice Kennedy. Since he’s always the swing vote, you want to stun him in a way that pushes him over to your side of the column,” she said.
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