The Supreme Court Hears Religious Exemptions for Birth Control Coverage Arguments

Supermajority Education Fund

May 7, 2020

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the Trump administration’s latest case to weaken contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on Wednesday, May 6 via teleconference. The administration is currently pushing to allow more employers to decline coverage for contraceptives under their healthcare plans if they have religious or moral objections. According to government estimates, if the rule change were to take effect, about 70,000 to 126,000 women would lose access to contraceptive coverage under their healthcare plans.

But as the Associated Press reports, many of the justices seemed reluctant to change the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is considered a crucial vote in the case, noted that the mandate being pushed by the administration to expand a religious exemption law was “too broad.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who spoke to the court from a Maryland hospital, where she is currently being treated for a gallstone-related infection, questioned the motivations behind the lawsuit entirely.

“You have just tossed entirely to the wind what Congress thought was essential, that is that women be provided these …. services with no hassle, no cost to them,” Ginsburg told Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who was representing the administration in court. 

Under the rules created by the Obama administration, churches, synagogues, and mosques were exempt from being required to provide contraceptive coverage. Religiously affiliated organizations like universities, hospitals, and charities could opt-out of paying for contraceptive coverage, but their employees would still be able to access contraceptives at no cost because of the ACA. Some of these qualifying organizations have argued that opting out of coverage also violates their beliefs.

Advocates, on the other hand, say that upholding access to contraceptive coverage is vital for students and employees at religiously affiliated institutions. Many medical students at religiously affiliated medical schools are “young women who need to practice effective family planning throughout the 8 to 10 years of our medical education,” Lois Backus, the president of Medical Students for Choice,  told Supermajority News. “The Affordable Care Act has provided us with the access to contraception we need to plan our families affordably within our healthcare coverage.”

Backus added that religiously affiliated schools and hospitals also often prohibit the prescribing of necessary contraceptives to patients. If the religious exemption is expanded,  Backus worries, even more patients and employees could lose access to necessary reproductive care.

“The broadening of these exemptions most directly harms ONLY those of us who can become pregnant,” Backus said. “It is our hope that the US Supreme Court will recognize that these new regulations must be struck down.”