Commentary

Advocates: Supreme Court ruling endangers reproductive freedom

Reactions are coming in to today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that permits employers opposed to providing reproductive health care to their employees from being required to do so under the terms of the Affordable Care Act.

This is from the NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina:

The U.S Supreme Court decision in Little Sisters of the Poor v Pennsylvania (combined with Trump v Pennsylvania ) to uphold the Trump Administration’s rule allowing virtually any employer to deny birth control coverage to their employees is a step backwards for reproductive freedom and continues this Administration’s reckless attacks on the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

With the majority of people in this country receiving healthcare benefits through their employers, this discriminatory rule greatly broadens the ability of employers to deny essential healthcare to their employees simply due to purported “moral” or “religious” beliefs. Religious right and conservative moneyed interests continued championing and pushing this administrative rule during the COVID-19 pandemic, a global pandemic that has highlighted just how important equitable access to healthcare is. This push exposes their true motivations—to exert power over others and impose their harmful beliefs on everyone else.

There have long been laws and rules protecting the religious freedom of employers, including an Obama-era compromise to the ACA birth control benefit. Today’s ruling is not about expanding religious freedom; it is about shrinking workers’ rights and access to healthcare. Employees trade workers’ labor for compensation, including healthcare benefits. The denial of benefits based on an overly broad definition of “religious and moral beliefs” is nothing but discrimination against workers who don’t share their employer’s beliefs. As always, the negative impact of rules like these falls heaviest on low-wage workers and others struggling to access healthcare, such as women, People of Color, immigrants and refugees, people in rural areas, and the LGBTQ+ community.

The Affordable Care Act was meant to expand access to quality, affordable healthcare for everyone, and the birth control benefit alone provided nearly 61.4 million people across the country with access to contraception without additional out-of-pocket costs. Today’s ruling is an attempt to roll back those gains, and it is a loss for those advocating for reproductive freedom and equality for all.

And this is from Planned Parenthood South Atlantic:

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling sets a dangerous precedent by allowing employers and universities to deny coverage for essential health care,” said Jenny Black, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “People of color and young people benefit most from guaranteed birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and this ruling recklessly opens the door for institutions to harm or discriminate against people during a public health crisis that continues to ravage our communities. It is clear that in 2020, access to all sexual and reproductive health care is still at risk. But the fight is far from over. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic remains committed to fighting for and providing affordable birth control to our patients, no matter who they work for, where they go to school, or their health insurance status.”

And this is from the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Contraception should not be singled out from the rest of health insurance coverage. Today’s ruling has given bosses the power to dictate how their employees can and cannot use their health insurance—allowing them to intrude into their employees’ private decisions based on whatever personal beliefs their employers happen to hold.

Refusing women the health care they are guaranteed by law is an act of discrimination. This fundamentally wrong-headed ruling is a critical misinterpretation of the Affordable Care Act and what Congress intended. We now look to Congress to act swiftly to ensure that only workers and students, not their bosses or universities, have the authority to decide what health care choices are appropriate for them and their families. Congress should take action to ensure the Administration is prevented from enforcing these discriminatory rules.”

This is the third time the high court has addressed the issue of the ACA’s contraceptive coverage benefit. The no-cost birth control guarantee remained intact for most people in the U.S. until 2017, when the Trump Administration introduced new rules that would expand the exemption so broadly that it could render the birth control guarantee meaningless for hundreds of thousands of people. Under the rules, any entity of any size, whether non-profit or for-profit, could deny birth control coverage for its workers or students as long as it claimed to have religious or in many cases even moral objections.

Earlier this year, the Center for Reproductive Rights joined 20 other organizations, led by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in filing a ‘friend of the court’ brief in the case, telling the Supreme Court, “Through the rulemaking challenged here, the government has sought to…[establish] religious and moral exemptions that effectively nullify the contraceptive-coverage requirement’s protections for hundreds of thousands of women…”. The amicus brief filed by religious and civil-rights organizations, including the Center, notes, “The rights to believe and practice one’s faith, or not, are sacrosanct. But they do not extend to imposing on others by operation of law the costs and burdens of one’s beliefs. Government should not, and under the Establishment Clause cannot, favor the religious beliefs of some at the expense of the rights, beliefs, and health of others.”

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