Health Reproductive Rights

ACA Birth Control Benefit Heads Back to the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court today agreed to hear arguments from religiously affiliated non-profits challenging women’s right to access insurance coverage for birth control under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

The non-profits seeking to deny women employees access to birth control argue that the requirement to fill out a one-page form to receive an exemption from covering birth control places a substantial burden on their exercise of religion and violates Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

“Birth control is basic health care for women. These challenges are not about religion. There is no law in the United States that allows an employer, even a religiously-affiliated non-profit, to impose a religious belief on an employee,” said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. “Plain and simple, these cases are about sex discrimination and whether or not religion – in the United States – can still be used as a cover to discriminate against women. Will we have equal rights and democracy for everyone, or will we have democracy for men and theocracy for women?”

Under the ACA, health insurance companies must cover the full cost of all FDA-approved contraceptives – including the pill, IUDs, and emergency contraception – without requiring co-pays or cost-sharing. Religious employers, like churches, are already entirely exempt from this requirement. Religiously affiliated non-profits that object to providing birth control coverage to their employees are entitled to an accommodation that relieves them of their obligation to cover birth control.

To qualify for the accommodation, religiously affiliated non-profits must only inform their health insurance issuer, third party administrator, or the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – via a simple government form – that it objects to providing insurance coverage for birth control. At that point, these organizations are no longer required to play any role in providing or subsidizing birth control. The insurance issuer or third party administrator would be solely responsible for providing birth control benefits to affected employees.

Seven federal appeals courts have ruled that it is not a violation of RFRA the for a religiously affiliated non-profit to fill out a form indicating that it objects to providing insurance coverage for birth control. Only one court, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, has sided with the non-profits.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear at least parts of all seven cases that requested review.

Just last Term, the Supreme Court decided in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell that for-profit corporations with religious objections could deny health insurance coverage for birth control. In its opinion, the Court determined that the government could achieve its goal of making birth control coverage available through narrower means, specifically referencing the accommodation available to religiously affiliated non-profits.

Media Resources: US Supreme Court 11/6/15; Feminist Newswire 5/12/15, 7/1/14; Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services

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