Women’s access to contraceptives is on the line—yet again.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments on two cases—Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania—that could significantly limit birth control access in the United States.
The Court’s conservative majority may use these cases to allow most employers to claim religious or moral exemptions to providing contraception coverage in their employee health insurance plans.
“Nobody should lose coverage because their boss believes contraception isn’t morally acceptable,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office will be challenging the regulation. “Contraception is medicine. Pure and simple.”
Currently, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most insurance plans must cover all types of birth control approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration without a co-pay. The Court’s decisions in the two Pennsylvania cases may undo that requirement by upholding Trump administration regulations that allow employers to claim religious or moral exemptions to contraception coverage. A federal court struck down those regulations in 2019.
The Supreme Court heard a similar case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, in 2014. Then, the Court ruled that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a for-profit company does not have to directly provide birth control coverage for its employees if its owners have a religious objection to contraception.
As Vox reports:
The silver lining in the 5–4 ruling was the majority’s recognition that the ACA’s religious accommodation provided the key to taking account of the rights of all parties. The majority concluded that the accommodation is “an alternative that achieves all of the government’s aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty” and guarantees that “women would still be entitled to FDA-approved contraceptives without cost-sharing.” Now, the Little Sisters and the Trump administration are asking the Supreme Court to shelve that part of the Hobby Lobby ruling and strike down the accommodation.
After that ruling, the Obama administration adopted a more indirect approach to guarantee employees access to birth control. If a company had a religious objection to contraception, the government would work with the company’s insurer to establish an alternate plan to provide birth control coverage.
With more conservative justices on the bench, the Court may go beyond the limited Hobby Lobby ruling and uphold the Trump administration’s more expansive religious exemption rules. If those rules are upheld, many low-income people will be left without access to affordable contraception.