In a decisive win for the Trump administration, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Wednesday (July 8) that employers with religious objections do not have to pay for employee’s birth control under the Affordable Care Act.
The case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, was decided in a 7-2 split, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting. The New York Times reports:
In March 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, which includes a section that requires coverage of preventive health services and screenings for women. The next year, the Obama administration required employers and insurers to provide women with coverage at no cost for all methods of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Houses of worship, including churches, temples and mosques, were exempt from the requirement. But nonprofit groups like schools and hospitals affiliated with religious organizations were not.
The mandate was controversial from its inception. Some groups objected to providing any form of birth control. Others, reports The Times, “objected to contraception they said was tantamount to abortion, though there are substantial questions about whether that characterization was correct as a scientific matter.”
Planned Parenthood estimates that the Affordable Care Act expanded birth control access without out-of-pocket costs for more than 62 million women, including 17 million Latinas and 15 million Black women.
An overwhelming majority of Americans believe women should have birth control coverage, regardless of their employer’s objections. Yet when President Donald Trump took office, he pledged to strike down the contraception mandate, arguing that it put a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion.
By the government’s own estimates, about 70,000 to 126,000 women could lose contraceptive coverage from their employers as a result of the SCOTUS decision, CNN reports.
Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in an emailed statement:
Today’s ruling is egregious — people rely on birth control for their health, for their livelihoods, and for their ability to determine their own futures. The dual public health crises of COVID-19 and systemic racism and violence are pushing people, our health care system, and our economy beyond their limits, and yet today, the Supreme Court has allowed the Trump administration to make essential health care even more difficult to access. Restrictions like this target Black and Latinx people who are more likely to be low income and for whom basic health care has always remained out of reach, because of historic and continued underinvestment in access to affordable care. This decision will only make life harder for the very people who are keeping our economy afloat during this pandemic and fighting in the streets for the right to control their bodies and lives.
A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 34 percent of women want to put pregnancy on hold or have fewer children due to COVID-19 and the related economic crisis—with 44 percent of Black and 48 percent of Latinx women feeling this way.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who penned the SCOTUS majority opinion, wrote, "For the past seven years, [the Little Sisters of the Poor ]—like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today’s decision—have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Says Guttmacher Institute Associate Director of Policy Analysis Adam Sonfield in a statement:
If we step back, we can see the pattern and the underlying, coercive motivations behind the Trump administration’s actions. This attack on private insurance coverage of contraception is tied to the administration’s destructive overhaul of the Title X national family planning program, its relentless attempts to gut the Affordable Care Act, its harmful ‘refusal of care’ rules, and its ongoing efforts to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood and undermine Medicaid coverage of family planning care.