Zubik v. Burwell Case Attracts Major Media Attention

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell, a case that has the potential to allow religiously affiliated organizations to force their beliefs on their female employees and students by blocking them from receiving birth control insurance coverage from third parties. While protesters rallied outside, the eight justices listened to one and a half hours of arguments about whether the Affordable Care Act’s contraception accommodation violated the rights of those who have religious objections to birth control.

This case has created waves in the media. NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt focused on mainly on the most media-friendly plaintiff in the case, the Little Sisters of the Poor. The segment also outlined the split among the eight remaining justices on the Supreme Court.

The Nightly News also featured AU law clerk Allison Tanner, a student at Georgetown Law, who explained that, like other students, students at religiously affiliated universities are entitled to receive contraception coverage. In another interview with NPR’s Nina Totenberg, Tanner noted that nearly 2 million students in the nation attend approximately 1,000 religiously affiliated colleges and universities.

“The burden there is light,” she said, referring to the universities’ ability to opt out of providing contraception by simply notifying the government. "The burden on the woman who will not have insurance access to contraception is heavy without some form of workaround for the religious objection."

Outside the court, Rewire spoke to civil rights leaders, including AU’s Executive Director Barry Lynn, about why it was so important for the Court to uphold women’s access to contraception.

Rewire was also inside the court, following the arguments as they unfolded. The Court’s conservatives seemed to be more focused on the paperwork and logistics rather than talking about the real women who actually benefit from the contraception coverage. Talking Points Memo concurred, suggesting that the male justices of the Supreme Court had no idea how women obtained their health care. The more liberal justices probed whether religious objectors had any right to obstruct

“If we are not asking you to do anything except identify yourself, and if who is going to do the action is either the government or a third party, [then] that’s the balance that we have struck,” said Justice Sotomayor. “That it’s not a substantial burden if someone else is going to do the act that you’re objecting to.”

Ultimately, most reporters are predicting that Zubik v. Burwell is headed towards a 4-4 tie.

You can find more history and analysis of this case here.