In an editorial published in Rewire, former Americans United law clerk Alison Tanner stressed that the Supreme Court's non-decision in Zubik v. Burwell leaves thousands of students like her in healthcare limbo. The case hinged upon a Religious Freedom Restoration Act challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception-coverage regulations. That challenge, brought by religiously affiliated entities, argues that even signing a form to opt-out of providing birth control to its employees violates their religious freedom.
"This isn’t just a legal debate for me," Tanner said. "It’s personal...I am not Catholic and do not share my university’s views on contraception and abortion. Although I was aware of Georgetown’s history of denying students’ essential health-care benefits, I did not think I should have to sacrifice the opportunity to attend an elite law school because I am a woman of reproductive age."
As a law student at Georgetown University, a private Jesuit school, her access to contraceptive healthcare depends on the university continuing to follow Affordable Care Act guidelines.
In February, Americans United filed a brief 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 religiously affiliated institutions. Tanner was one of those students represented. The Supreme Court eventually sent the case back down to the lower courts, essentially delivering a non-decision.
"Because we still don’t have an ultimate decision from the Supreme Court, incoming students cannot consider ease of access to contraception in deciding where to attend college, and they may risk committing to attend [a] university that will be legally allowed to discriminate against them," Tanner argued. "A religiously affiliated university may be in all other regards a perfect fit for a young woman. It’s unfair that she should face have to risk access to essential health care to pursue academic opportunity."
Americans United continues to fight on behalf of students at religiously affiliated universities where access to reproductive healthcare is at risk. Though many organizations are combatting these challenges to the ACA contraception accommodation, we are the only ones representing actual women affected by these threats to their reproductive health. Last week, we successfully added our client Ann Doe as a participant in the University of Notre Dame's lawsuit against the government and the ACA accommodations. She can now stand side-by-side with our other client Jane Doe and the government to defend her access to insurance that covers contraceptives.
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