U.S Supreme Court allows religious employers deny birth control coverage under Obamacare.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday voted 7-2 to uphold rules established by the Trump administration that would allow employers with sincerely held moral or religious objections to deny their employees access to free contraceptive coverage.
The rules broadened a carve out to the contraceptive coverage mandate included in the Affordable Care Act, the health-care overhaul commonly known as Obamacare. According to government estimates, the religious exemption would lead to possibly as many 125,000 women losing their coverage.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the opinion of the court, wrote that the Trump administration “had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections.”
“The only question we face today is what the plain language of the statute authorizes,” Thomas wrote. “And the plain language of the statute clearly allows the Departments to create the preventive care standards as well as the religious and moral exemptions.”
Thomas’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Justice Elena Kagan wrote separately to explain her vote with the majority, and was joined by Justice Stephen Breyer. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
The Supreme Court challenge came after Pennsylvania and New Jersey had successfully halted implementation of the regulations in the lower courts. The states argued that the federal government failed to follow the legal protocol known as notice-and-comment in creating the rules.
The states said that if the rules went into effect, they would be saddled with increased costs to run their taxpayer-funded family-planning programs.
A federal district court sided with the states and prevented the new rules from going into effect. That decision was affirmed by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia.
The Trump administration, via the Department of Justice, and the Catholic nonprofit Little Sisters of the Poor, asked the Supreme Court to reverse those rulings.
The Justice Department told the court that the exemptions are required by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the government from substantially burdening religious exercise unless it can show that it is using the “least restrictive means” to further a compelling government interest.
The cases are Donald Trump v. Pennsylvania, No. 19-454, and The Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, No. 19-431.