In a 7 to 2 decision on July 8th, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration exemptions to the Affordable Care Act, which allows employers with religious qualms to restrict women’s access to birth control coverage.
The decision is the result of years of backlash against the Obama administration’s initiative that required employers to cover contraception costs under the Affordable Care Act. This initiative was created in response to women being charged higher insurance premiums and high out-of-pocket rates for basic health services that included contraceptive medication.
Lourdes Rivera, Senior Vice President of the U.S. programs at the Center of Reproductive Rights, stated in response to this Supreme Court Decision, “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.”
Similar to Rivera’s statement, opposers of this Supreme Court decision argue that this ruling is a step backward in gender equality. They assert that accessibility of birth control decreases accidental pregnancies, which create more stable family structures; this opposition often cites studies that show birth control decreasing abortion rates. Similar studies also connect birth control access to an increased number of women pursuing higher levels of education and higher earnings.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, along with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, stated that the majority had allowed religious belief to hold too much power. “In accommodating claims of religious freedom, this court has taken a balanced approach, one that does not allow the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs,” she claimed. “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.”
On the other hand, Justice Clarence Thomas, in the majority opinion who wrote for the five more conservative justices, stated that the Affordable Care Act in itself had authorized regulators “to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections.”
He is referencing the fact that during the Obama Administration, the Affordable Care Act exempted houses of worship, like churches, mosques, and temples from requiring employers and insurers to provide no-cost contraception. The Trump administration sided with religious employers, believing that requiring birth control coverage puts a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion.
Justice Thomas explained that the Trump administration was allowed to create exemptions, as there was already a precedent for it in the Affordable Care Act. He asserts that the Trump Administration is within their legal rights to extend these exemptions to all employers.