Under an Affordable Care Act policy, most insurance plans must cover contraception. But for-profit corporations (like Hobby Lobby) and non-profit institutions (including prominent universities) have argued that the policy should not apply to them because they have religious objections to providing the coverage to their employees and students.
Religion is not an excuse to allow these organizations to deny women access to healthcare. We have fought back in dozens of cases.
From the beginning, houses of worship have been given an exemption from the general rule that health insurance plans must cover contraception. Houses of worship do not have to (and have never had to) provide their employees insurance coverage for contraception. In addition, religiously affiliated non-profit institutions, including universities, can opt to use an accommodation to the coverage requirement. They can refuse to provide their students and employees with insurance coverage for contraception so long as they state their objection in writing. The government will then arrange for a third-party to pay for and provide the coverage instead.
Challenges By For-Profit Corporations
The owners of for-profit corporations filed dozens of cases challenging the coverage requirement, arguing that they were also entitled to an exemption because providing contraception coverage for their employees violated their religious beliefs. One of the cases, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, ended up at the Supreme Court. We filed over a dozen briefs in those cases, and in the Supreme Court, we filed a brief on behalf of nearly 30 religious organizations, arguing that religious freedom has never included the right to deprive other people of their rights.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled that for-profit corporations could invoke the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to refuse to provide otherwise required health benefits—in this case, insurance coverage for contraception—based on their owners’ religious beliefs.
In response, the government extended the accommodation to closely held corporations.
Learn more about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores.
Challenges By Non-Profit Organizations
The accommodation failed to appease many non-profit institutions, including universities, and dozens of these groups challenged it in court. They argue that the mere act of filling out a form—a form relieving them of the need to comply with the policy—violates their religious freedom. They want a full exemption that strips their employees and students of contraception coverage altogether. We filed briefs in most of these cases, and in one case, University of Notre Dame v. Price, we represent students whose coverage is at risk.
Nearly every court of appeals rejected the non-profit organizations’ argument and upheld the accommodation. The Supreme Court, in Zubik v. Price, however, side-stepped the issue and instead sent all the cases back down to the lower courts and urged them to consider other possible accommodations. We filed a brief in Zubik on behalf of 240 students, faculty, and staff at religiously affiliated universities, discussing the importance of providing contraceptive coverage to those who work or study at these institutions.
After requesting information from the public, the Obama administration concluded that there was no feasible alternative accommodation. Unfortunately, no resolution has been reached and the employees' and students' access to contraception remains in limbo. New Trump administration regulations will add even more uncertainty to the issue.
We will continue to fight in court, including in University of Notre Dame v. Price, to make sure these students and all women like them have affordable, seamless access to contraception.
Challenges To The Trump Administration Regulations
In May 2017, President Trump signed a "religious freedom" executive order aimed in part at attacking women’s access to birth control. The executive order started the process to roll back the contraception coverage rule. Just a few weeks later, media reports included leaked draft regulations that would allow any employer or university, including for-profit corporations, to use religion as an excuse to refuse to cover birth control in their employees’ and students’ health insurance.
Americans United has already begun fighting the draft regulations. In Notre Dame v. Price, one of the many ongoing cases brought by non-profits challenging the ACA policy, we represent students who would lose their insurance coverage for contraception under the draft regulations. We have objected in court to the draft regulations, describing how the proposal—or any change that doesn’t provide affordable, seamless access to necessary health care—will harm women. The new regulations will face further challenges in court.