Supreme Court Upholds Religious & Moral Exemptions From Obamacare’s Birth Control Mandate
How do you feel about the Court’s decision?
What’s the story?
- The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a 7-2 decision in a case known as Little Sisters of the Poor Sts. Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania that upheld the conscience exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate. The case was consolidated with a similar case called Trump v. Pennsylvania.
- The decision is the latest installment in a years-long saga of birth control mandate cases being heard at the Supreme Court. It began with the ACA, which required employers to provide women access to birth control at no cost under employer-sponsored health plans ― but it included an exception from the mandate for churches & houses of worship, and an opt-out process was created for religious non-profits that raised objections. In a case known as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014), the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that businesses with sincere religious objections could also opt out of the mandate.
- In 2016, the Court heard a case involving a challenge to the Obama administration’s opt-out process which contended the process posed an undue burden on the exercise of their religion, but it was unable to resolve the issue & remanded the case because it only had eight members following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and was tied. So the Trump administration issued a new rule in 2017 which exempted religious & moral objectors under “conscience exemptions” that was challenged by Pennsylvania & New Jersey.
- The pair of cases decided Wednesday concerned whether the Trump administration’s expansion of the conscience exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate violated the ACA & the laws which govern federal agencies. The two states challenged the Trump administration, and were granted a nationwide injunction blocking implementation of the exemption by a lower court. The Trump administration and the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious group that works with the elderly & the poor, challenged the ruling.
- The decision affirms that the Trump administration had the authority to issue rules creating the religious & moral exemptions from the birth control mandate, and that the rulemaking process was free from procedural defects.
What did the justices say?
- Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Neil Gorsuch. Thomas’s opinion read in part:
“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. “[T]hey commit to constantly living out a witness that proclaims the unique, inviolable dignity of every person, particularly those whom others regard as weak or worthless.” But for the past seven years, they ― like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemaking 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. After two decisions from this Court and multiple failed regulatory attempts, the Federal Government has arrived at a solution that exempts the Little Sisters from the source of their complicity-based concerns ― the administratively imposed contraceptive mandate. 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.”
- In addition to the majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote an opinion concurring with the judgment that was joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, while Justice Samuel Alito filed a concurring opinion of his own in addition to joining the majority opinion.
- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which read in part:
“The blanket exemption for religious and moral objectors to contraception formulated by the IRS, EBSA, and CMS is inconsistent with the text of, and Congress’ intent for, both the ACA and RFRA. Neither law authorizes it. The original administrative regulation accommodating religious objections to contraception appropriately implemented the ACA and RFRA consistent with Congress’ staunch determination to afford women employees equal access to preventive services, thereby advancing public health and welfare and women’s well-being.”
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Cummings Properties via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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