contraception coverage

  • November 13, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Samuel A. Marcosson, Professor of Law, University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law

    On November 6, the Supreme Court granted cert in seven cases (which it promptly consolidated for briefing and argument as Zubik v. Burwell) to resolve the issue it left open when it ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that private, for-profit companies are entitled to a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. At issue is whether the accommodation the government provides to nonprofit employers satisfies the requirements of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). If it doesn’t, employees of these nonprofits will, like their counterparts at Hobby Lobby, lose their contraceptive coverage. A decision exempting the nonprofits from the contraceptive mandate would make Zubik one of the landmarks of the Term, and a disaster in the Court’s religion jurisprudence.

    Zubik tests the limits of the dangerous path the Court began to walk in Hobby Lobby. The majority opinion there departed from the Court’s long-standing approach in religious accommodation cases of carefully considering the impact of a proposed accommodation on third parties who would be burdened by it. In Hobby Lobby, of course, those third parties were the employees who lost coverage for contraceptive care that, under the ACA, is an essential element of comprehensive health insurance and which, for many, avoids enormous expense and “helps safeguard the health of women for whom pregnancy may be hazardous, even life threatening.” The Court gave almost no weight to the interests and needs of those employees who would be deprived of the essential coverage the ACA had mandated.

    The Court faces an even starker choice in Zubik because the claim on the other side of the scale, the burden claimed by the employers to their religious exercise, is more attenuated than it was in Hobby Lobby. A nonprofit that objects to providing contraceptive coverage receives an accommodation simply by certifying to HHS that it has a religious objection. As Justice Alito admitted in Hobby Lobby, a nonprofit which files the certification is “effectively exempted . . . from the contraceptive mandate.” In other words, to be accommodated under the ACA regulations, all the objecting nonprofits must do is tell HHS exactly what they are telling the Supreme Court: that they have a religious objection to providing contraceptive coverage.

  • September 1, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    In The New York TimesAdam Liptak reports that Judge Richard J. Leon of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled Monday that employers do not need to provide health insurance for contraception where their objections are moral but not religious.

    A press release from Americans United for Separation of Church and State urges state officials to take precautions to ensure church-state separation during the Pope’s upcoming visit.

    Alan Blinder and Richard Pérez-Peña write in The New York Times that Rowan County, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis’s emergency petition for a stay was denied without comment by the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • April 21, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Jess Bravin reports in The Wall Street Journal that the Supreme Court has revived a challenge to North Carolina’s election map based on the argument that it “illegally concentrates black voters in a handful of districts.”

    Nina Totenberg profiles for NPR the “accidental activists” of the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage arguments.

    In a new podcast at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick discusses the balance of political and psychological  motivations on the Supreme Court with Adam Liptak and Eric Segall.

    Leslie Griffin criticizes at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights the recent decision by Justice Samuel Alito to stay a lower court decision that refused to grant an exemption to Catholic officials from filling out a form saying they would not provide employees with contraceptive coverage.

    Matt Ford of The Atlantic explains how the death penalty is becoming less common and public support for the practice is on the decline.

  • March 31, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Frederick Gedicks, Guy Anderson Chair and Professor of Law, Brigham Young University Law School

    In the wake of last week’s oral argument of the contraception mandate cases, numerous reporters and bloggers have suggested that the government’s defense of the mandate went badly because (roughly), “Justice Kennedy thinks Hobby Lobby is an abortion case.” The basis for this take is that Justice Kennedy’s questions linked the mandate with abortion rights, to which he has only a limited commitment: Justice Kennedy joined the joint opinion of Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) which upheld the “core” of Roe v. Wade (1973), but he subsequently authored the majority opinion in Gonzalez v. Carhart (2007), which upheld a federal statutory ban on late-term abortions despite the absence of health exception. (See also Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), with Kennedy dissenting to the Court’s striking down of a state ban.)

    But there’s another way of seeing Hobby Lobby. Justice Kennedy also asked questions that linked Hobby Lobby’s opposition to the mandate to the burdens a religious exemption from the mandate would impose on its employees, and he has expressed concern in past decisions about religious exemptions that shift the cost of accommodation from those who practice the accommodated religion to those who don’t. For example, Kennedy wrote in the Kiryas Joel that “a religious accommodation demands careful scrutiny to ensure that it does not so burden nonadherents or so discriminate against other religions as to become an establishment” (concurring in the judgment).

    This concern about cost-shifting religious accommodations would presumably be front and center in any case involving religious exemptions that would burden gays and lesbians. Whatever he thinks about abortion rights, there can be no question that Justice Kennedy has long been unequivocally opposed to discrimination against gays and lesbians. See United States v.  Windsor (2013); Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013); Lawrence v. Texas (2003); Romer v. Evans (1996). Indeed, it would appear from Windsor that Justice Kennedy is prepared to hold that state prohibitions and restrictions on same-sex marriage violate the both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment.

    Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) exemptions for Hobby Lobby would open the door to state religious exemptions excusing for-profit businesses from serving same-sex couples or providing certain benefits to gay and lesbian employees. A religious exemption from the contraception mandate for Hobby Lobby would establish a more general principle that for-profit businesses and their owners are entitled to statutory accommodation of their religious beliefs, even when such accommodations impose significant costs on others who do not share those beliefs. Under this principle, not only could an employer claim the right not to provide services for a same-sex wedding on religious grounds, it could also claim the right not to provide mandated employee benefits like health insurance coverage for same-sex spouses, or leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act for gay employees who adopt a child.

  • February 8, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Leslie C. Griffin, William S. Boyd Professor of Law, UNLV Boyd School of Law

    The Obama administration recently offered more accommodations to the religious employers who oppose women’s reproductive freedom and seek exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employee insurance coverage extend to contraception and sterilization. The employers won two big victories. First, the definition of religious employer was expanded to include not only organizations where everyone shares one faith but also those that employ or provide services to individuals who are not members of the same religious community. Second, the employers will not have to provide the coverage. Instead, the insurance companies will independently contact employees and make separate contraceptive policies available to them at no charge. The insurance companies will cover the costs of this new arrangement and, presumably, pass them on to other consumers.

    The new rules are responsive to repeated and vociferous complaints about the president’s war on religion. As soon as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, first announced that religious employers would be expected to provide contraceptive and sterilization coverage at no cost to employees, the nation’s Catholic bishops attacked the president for his unprecedented assault on religious freedom. Those critics ignored the fact that the idea of requiring employers to protect women’s equality by providing insurance was not new or unprecedented. Twenty-six states have similar laws, and the highest courts of New York and California upheld their women’s contraceptive equity statutes against First Amendment claims.

    With the federal act currently under challenge in 45 lawsuits, however, the administration chose to compromise rather than to press the legality of its actions on behalf of women’s equality. The strategy of compromise has been unsuccessful. Even the new accommodations have not satisfied the administration’s critics. The Catholic bishops still believethat the president should compromise even more by extending the exemption to secular, for-profit corporations run by religious individuals. And Kyle Duncan, the general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has sponsored much of the litigation against the mandate, stated that the new rules do “nothing to protect the religious freedom of millions of Americans.”