Court Allows Employer Exemptions in ACA Birth Control Mandate

Daniel Fowler
July 10, 2020

In the first and most high-profile of the cases, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, SCOTUS ruled that the Trump administration's expansion of an exemption for religious organizations to the contraception mandate in ObamaCare was legal for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. While the administration has the right to change the policy, she said, "I question whether the exemptions can survive administrative law's demand for reasoned decisionmaking".

The ruling marks a dark win for the Trump administration, who worked to undo a hard fought Obamacare mandate that required a majority of employers to offer free coverage for birth control. The 2010 Affordable Care Act required new insurance policies to cover preventive care at no extra cost, but it left it to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to specify which forms of care had to be covered.

Initially, churches, synagogues and mosques were exempt from the contraceptive coverage requirement.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission".

The United States Supreme Court on Wednesday handed down two decisions strengthening religious liberty and expanding freedom of religion.

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"Contraception should not be singled out from the rest of health insurance coverage", said Lourdes Rivera, senior vice president at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania had challenged the broadened exemptions, alleging they violated the Affordable Care Act and were adopted in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The case will return to an appeals court in Philadelphia, which had blocked the regulation but has not considered all of the possible procedural objections. "An employer's personal beliefs shouldn't dictate the health coverage employees can receive".

One KEZI 9 News viewer wrote in a Facebook comment, "You're an adult". Without insurance access, the cost for oral contraception ranges between $600 to $1,000 a year and the cost sky rockets for contraceptives like IUD's. "The most effective forms of contraceptives are the most expensive". The benefit saved women an estimated $1.4 billion on birth control pills in 2013 alone, according to the National Women's Law Center.

The ruling leaving lay teachers without anti-discrimination protections was one of three major decisions in recent weeks that re-balance the law when it comes to the separation of church and state.

"For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother", Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority ruling. Now the justices tend to focus their opinions on protecting the free exercise of religion and requiring greater accommodations by the government of religious activity.

Relying on the "ministerial exception" outlined in the 2012 SCOTUS decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC, 565 USA 171 (2012), the majority opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, noted that "religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission".

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