Insurance Plans Need Not Cover Birth Control
After years in legal battles, SCOTUS says religious exemptions are OK
July 16, 2020
WASHINGTON (CNS)—In a 7-2 decision July 8, the Supreme Court upheld regulations by the Trump administration giving employers more ability to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage in their health plans.
The decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the administration had “the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections.”
Dissenting votes were by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.
“This is a saga that did not need to occur. Contraception is not health care, and the government should never have mandated that employers provide it in the first place,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said.
The bishops said they welcomed the decision and hoped it “brings a close to this episode of government discrimination against people of faith. 
“Yet, considering the efforts we have seen to force compliance with this mandate, we must continue to be vigilant for religious freedom,” they said.
The statement was issued by Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
The case examined if the expansion of the conscience exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate violated the health care law and laws governing federal administrative agencies.
It highlighted — as it has before when the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate has come before the high court — the Little Sisters of the Poor, the order of women religious who care for the elderly poor.
The sisters were represented, as they have been previously, by Becket, a religious liberty law firm.
The oral arguments were the combined cases of Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania.
According to government estimates, the Trump administration’s rule changes would prevent 70,000 to 126,000 women from having contraception coverage in their employee health insurance.
Ginsburg, who cited these numbers in her dissent, said the court had previously taken a balanced approach in accommodating claims of religious freedom, “one that does not allow the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs.” 
She said that in this decision the court, for the first time, “casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree.”
The U.S. bishops said there had been “multiple opportunities for government officials to do the right thing and exempt conscientious objectors. Time after time, administrators and attorneys refused to respect the rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Catholic faith they exemplify, to operate in accordance with the truth about sex and the human person.”
Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, the order’s U.S. provincial, said the Little Sisters of the Poor were “overjoyed that, once again, the Supreme Court has protected our right to serve the elderly without violating our faith.”
In one of the two consolidated cases, Trump v. Pennsylvania, the administration argued that the exceptions to the contraceptive mandate for religious groups were authorized by the health care law and required by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.
The second case examined whether the Little Sisters of the Poor had the standing to appeal the 3rd Circuit ruling since a separate court order had already allowed them to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.
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