The United States Supreme Court has confirmed a wide expansion by the Trump administration of the employers’ group that may use religious objections to deny women’s insurance coverage for contraception.
The ruling, which reversed a lower court decision, could deprive up to 125,000 women of contraceptive coverage, Judge Sonia Sotomayor warned during oral arguments in the case in May.
Judge Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion for the 7-2 majority dismissing a lower court decision that the Trump administration did not have the authority to issue such a broad order. “This decision,” wrote Thomas, “was wrong.
“We contend that the Departments had the authority to provide exemptions from the statutory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections,” wrote Thomas.
The Affordable Care Act, passed by Barack Obama, required employers to cover “preventive care,” a category that includes certain types of contraception, free of charge, allowing some exemptions for churches and religious groups. .
Family-run corporations with religious objections to cover the costs of contraception obtained the exemption from the law in a subsequent high-profile Supreme Court decision, Burwell v Hobby Lobby (2014).
But soon after Trump took office, his administration issued much broader new exemptions, which the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey challenged in court.
Under Trump’s rules, any nonprofit employer or any for-profit employer in a non-public company could claim a conscientious objection and be exempt from offering plans that include contraception coverage.
Government attorneys in the case, Little Sisters of the Poor v Pennsylvania, argued that no employer who had no good faith moral objections to contraception would seek to take advantage of the exemption, because health insurance plans that include contraceptive coverage cost no more than other plans.
But states argued that the executive branch did not have the power to issue such a broad order. The current case did not delve significantly into the underlying constitutional problems linked to the first amendment and the demands for equal protection in so-called “religious freedom” cases.
Along with other important decisions in this court period, the religious exemption case offered insight into how a new conservative majority in court, installed under Trump, could shape public life in the coming decades.
During oral arguments in the case, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg criticized the government for emptying the expansion of women’s healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.
“The dazzling feature of what the government has done in expanding this waiver is to completely blow away the instruction from Congress that women need and will have comprehensive, transparent and cost-free coverage,” said Ginsburg.
The Trump administration was “shifting the employer’s religious beliefs, the cost of that, to employees who don’t share these religious beliefs,” Ginsburg said.
Lawyers for the Trump administration argued that it made sense for exemptions extended to churches under the law to be further expanded.
Judges in the liberal wing of the court reiterated the argument about the plight of women who would lose insurance coverage as a result of the exemption.
“In your calculation, what you haven’t considered or told me is the effect on women who now have to go out, as Judge Ginsburg said, and seek contraceptive coverage if they cannot afford it in person,” Sotomayor said during the oral consultation. Arguments “And what I ask myself is: if there is no substantial burden, how can the government justify an exemption that deprives these women of transparent coverage?”