Contraceptive mandate at the Supreme Court – again

Just weeks after hearing argument over states’ TRAP laws (“targeted regulations against abortion providers”), the U.S. Supreme Court ventures back into the reproductive rights arena tomorrow morning, taking on yet another challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

The case, Zubik v. Burwell, is an effort to further push the limits of religious liberty already extended by the justices in their 5-4 ruling in Hobby Lobby, in which they held that for-profit companies whose owners objected to birth control on religious grounds were exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

In seven separate cases consolidated by the court under Zubik, hospitals, universities, nursing homes, and other religious nonprofits already exempt from the mandate are challenging the requirement that they notify their insurers of their religious objections to providing contraceptives. That notification, which enables the insurers to then provide the contraceptives directly to the employees, is an act which the challengers say is tantamount to their own provision of contraception and thus violates their religious beliefs.

The arguments in Zubik demonstrate just how distorted notions of “religious liberty” have become in recent years, according to Adam Sonfield of the Guttmacher Institute.

“Social conservatives have pulled together many of their long-standing political demands—targeting reproductive health and LGBT rights, most prominently—into an overarching campaign couched in the language of religious liberty,” Sonfield wrote in a recent report for the Institute.

And the conservatives on the Supreme Court have taken that bait, according to former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger. In a recent Center for American Progress forum on the Supreme Court term, Dellinger said that cases like Hobby Lobby reveal a court moving from allowing groups to avoid obligations because of religious beliefs to allowing groups to impose and burden others because of those beliefs.

Pro Publica has a great primer on what’s at stake in the case, along with answers to some of the most common questions, here.


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