The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared considerately split on Trump administration rules that would give employers more leeway in refusing to provide their employees free birth control by citing religious or moral objections.
What We Know:
- The case argued Wednesday involved rules that would allow publicly traded companies and large universities to claim a religious objection for refusing to provide the contraceptive coverage. Even more broadly, employers and schools with any moral objection would also be exempt from the requirement.
- Women’s groups said if the rules are upheld, tens of thousands of women nationwide would be denied coverage. “Birth control is essential health care that nearly nine in 10 women will use in their lifetimes. It’s a basic health care and an economic issue,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood.
- Four of the court’s conservatives suggested during the oral argument, conducted over the telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic, that the Affordable Care Act gave a federal agency the authority to grant those kinds of exceptions. Four of the court’s liberals asked questions suggesting they did not see it that way.
- In a 2014 case involving the Hobby Lobby stores, the Supreme Court said a private, religiously oriented, and closely held company could get an exemption from the contraceptive mandate on religious grounds. The Trump administration rule would expand the exemption and let even publicly held companies seek an exemption.
- Then, in 2016, the Supreme Court considered whether religious freedom is violated if employers must tell the government it would violate their religious freedom to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees, so that the administrator of their plan can take over. But the death of Justice Antonin Scalia left the court with eight members, and the case ended in an apparent 4-4 tie, which provided no answer.
Wednesday’s case was one of 10 the justices will hear by telephone conference call. Arguments originally scheduled for March and April were called off because of the coronavirus pandemic. The court will issue its decision by late June.