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Supreme Court Allows Employers to Deny Birth Control Coverage for Religious Reasons

Demonstrators rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby March 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. The court heard from lawyers on both sides of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a case that may determine whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 allows a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporationÕs owners.

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court voted in favor of the Trump administration, allowing employers with religious or moral objections to deny free birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The case, Trump v. Pennsylvania, in conjunction with Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, centers on Obamacare’s controversial birth control mandate, which requires most private health insurance plans to cover birth control for free.

The 7-2 ruling reverses a lower court decision that had ruled in favor of the ACA. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the Court’s opinion, with Ginsburg writing, “Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree.” She added, “This Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets.”

“We hold that the [Trump administration] had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority. He was joined by fellow conservative Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer did not join the majority opinion, but agreed with the conservatives to send the case back to the lower court.

Republicans have been chasing this ruling since the creation of the Affordable Care Act, with several cases tried in lower courts across the country. The birth control mandate, which has allowed nearly 63 million people to access affordable birth control, was previously heard in the Supreme Court case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby in 2014, where the court ruled in favor of the crafting store giant.

This ruling deals a major blow to reproductive rights and justice, which have been under threat since Trump’s election. It is infuriating that in 2020, people need to get their employer’s permission to make private medical decisions for their own body. It is a devastating outcome for the untold number of people who require birth control for medical reasons outside of preventing pregnancy, like reducing the risk of uterine and ovarian cancers, helping to alleviate menstrual cramps and endometriosis, and a host of other functions that birth control provides. With this ruling, between 75,000 to 125,000 women would lose coverage.

It is impossible to reconcile the conservative opinion on the birth control mandate with the anti-choice movement. It has been proven, time and time again, that free access to birth control lowers the rate of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore lowers the abortion rate. It’s almost as if conservatives are more concerned with controlling our bodies than with the actual logic of their choices (no surprise there).

Kristyn Brandi, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, previously released a statement saying, “Contraception is an essential component of health care. Its necessary coverage should not be lost to the whim of employers, … It not only allows people to plan and space their pregnancies in a way that is best for their health and their families, but also helps manage a variety of health conditions.”

Many took to social media to urge citizens to vote and to remind us that decisions like this are the direct result of Trump’s election.

(via CNN, image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.