Supreme Court Says Companies With Religious Objections Don't Need To Pay For Birth Control

by Valerie Williams
Supreme Court Undermines Access To Obamacare Birth Control Mandate
Sarah Pflug/Burst

SCOTUS gave the Trump administration a victory by allowing religious employers to deny employees birth control coverage

As part of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, most employers weren’t allowed to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to their employees. Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that a new regulation from the Trump administration was proper in allowing companies with religious or moral objections to deny employees no-cost birth control.

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld Trump’s regulation that gave latitude to employers when it comes to providing no-cost birth control as part of their healthcare plans. The New York Times reports that government estimates suggest that this ruling could mean 70,000 to 126,000 women will lose their birth control coverage.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the only ones to dissent.

“We hold today that the Departments had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption. We further hold that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote.

The ruling is, of course, a victory for Trump, whose administration sought to expand the types of employers who could refuse to provide contraceptives as part of their health care coverage for moral and religious reasons. Planned Parenthood says nine out of 10 women will seek some kind of birth control in the course of their lives.

In their dissenting opinion, Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg wrote, “Today for the first time, the court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree” and “leaves women workers to fend for themselves” in seeking birth control.

In the majority opinion, Justice Thomas argued that the Department of Health and Human Services, “has virtually unbridled discretion to decide what counts as preventive care and screenings,” and that authority “leaves its discretion equally unchecked in other areas, including the ability to identify and create exemptions from its own guidelines.”

The National Women’s Law Center condemned the ruling saying in part, “This decision will disproportionately harm low-wage workers, people of color, LGBTQ people, and others who already face barriers to care.”

Because of the ACA provision, NWLC says nearly 61 million women have birth control coverage without out-of-pocket costs.

In a 2014 Supreme Court case involving Hobby Lobby, the Court ruled that private and closely-held companies could be exempt from providing birth control based on religious or moral grounds. The Trump admin rule greatly expands that to also allow publicly traded companies and large universities to cite their religious or moral objections in providing contraceptive coverage to their employees.

The Trump administration regulation is an attempt to deliver on a 2016 campaign promise to allow employers more freedom to refuse to provide birth control coverage. Trump said employers should not be “bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs.”