Supreme Court Expands Employers Who Can Refuse to Cover Contraception in Health Plans

Earlier this week, we found out that employers’ religious beliefs are more important to the highest court in the country than individuals’ ability to manage their own reproductive health and lives.

The Supreme Court decided, 7­–2, in favor of allowing bosses and universities to omit contraception from their employee and student health insurance plans based on religious or “moral” objections. This is a tailored attack on reproductive health and rights, and we should all be outraged—even more so in light of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar’s statement, which included this slap across the face: “The Trump Administration took action to vindicate the rights of religious and moral people to be free from unnecessary government burdens, and the court has upheld the Administration’s action.”

Excuse me. “Moral people”??? I know that twit didn’t just imply that people who use birth control are without morals. (Just like he also didn’t say that health care workers treating COVID-19 patients can’t get infected with the virus).

The Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate requires that employer health insurance plans cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception. Houses of worship have always been exempted. Then exemptions were added for non-profits and “closely held” companies whose leaders or owners had “sincerely held religious beliefs”—these employers could simply sign a form relieving them of all responsibility, and the insurance company would swoop in and cover employees’ contraception directly.

But even this made some employers feel too “complicit” in what they consider to be a sinful activity: people whom they employ using birth control. Doesn’t matter if they use it to prevent pregnancy, treat PCOS, manage acne, or regulate their menstrual cycles—not that it’s any of their business what medications employees use, or why.

This sense of “complicity” led one nonprofit employer—Little Sisters of the Poor, a congregation of Roman Catholic nuns who take care of the elderly poor—to challenge the form-signing accommodation because it would still result in their employees being able to get insurance-covered contraception directly through the insurance provider.

The Court ruled that the Trump administration has the authority to allow whatever sort of exemption it wants, and bounced the case back to the lower courts to be officially adjudicated under this new standard. The outcome seems foreordained. The ruling also allows the Trump administration to vastly expand which employers can qualify for an exemption from the contraceptive mandate. They just have to not be a publicly traded company, and the owners have to state that they have a religious or moral objection to contraception.

That’s it.

So, any small business, university, or nonprofit can just up and decide that the people who work for them shouldn’t have the same health insurance benefits that other Americans have. Just because they think contraception is a sin—never mind what their employees who might actually want to use birth control might think.

Only two justices—Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor—believe that employees should be able to get copay-free contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans, regardless of where they work. These dissenting justices should be thanked, even as their fellow members of the bench outnumbered them in this hugely backwards and offensive decision.

Bosses shouldn’t have the right to remove contraception from employee health plans the same way they shouldn’t be allowed to come right out and ask employees whether they use contraception and if so, why and which method? It’s a gross overstep into employees’ personal lives, and it’s just plain gross.

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