Supreme Court Case Zubik v. Burwell Attacks Birth Control Coverage!

Supreme Court cases are so important!  Conservatives are going after birth control coverage, if you can believe it, and the case is at the Supreme Court!  Find out more about Zubik v. Burwell, a case on whether religious institutions other than than churches should be exempt from the contraceptive mandate regulation under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  

The contraceptive mandate is a regulation adopted by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the ACA that requires non-church employers to cover certain contraceptives for their female employees. Churches are already exempt under those regulations.

The Supreme Court started hearing the Zubik v. Burwell case on March 23, 2016.  

NOW activists in DC demonstrating at Supreme Court building.
Photo Credit: NOW Facebook Page

See NOW and other organizations protesting at the Supreme Court in DC and talking about the case at ‘Our Bodies, Our Lives’: Activists Rally Outside the Supreme Court Over Access to Basic Health Care,” 3/23/16

Zubik questions whether the Health and Human Services contraceptive-coverage mandate and its accommodation under the ACA violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by forcing religious non-profits to act in violation of their religious beliefs as protected by the First Amendment.

According to a NOW Issue Advisory,  Zubik v. Burwell – Religious Discrimination Threatens BC Access:

“This case has the potential to cause widespread harm to women, LGBTQIA people, children and others. Zubik plaintiffs focus on the birth control benefit, but a ruling in their favor could open the floodgates for institutions, companies and individuals to use their religious beliefs to harm or discriminate against others in a wide variety of situations. Catholic women of reproductive age – the vast majority of whom who use or have used modern birth control and who are employees of these religiously-affiliated non-profits are especially disadvantaged by the extremist claims represented in Zubik.”

“Additionally, employees of for-profit entities that are the “closely-held” companies whose owners object to providing insurance coverage for contraception, as in the Hobby Lobby case, fall under the accommodation. Many tens of thousands of women of reproductive age could be denied coverage.”

See more at ISSUE ADVISORY: Zubik v. Burwell – Religious Discrimination Threatens BC Access.

Zubik is the second direct challenge to the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “The cases are part of conservatives’ longstanding attacks on the Affordable Care Act generally, and the birth control benefit specifically—objections to which began as soon as President Obama signed the ACA into law.” according to “Everything You Need to Know for the Supreme Court Birth Control Case,” 3/21/16.

The case is still in process.  Note that with the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Feb 13, 2016, the 8 justices left on the court are pretty evenly ideologically split.  In general, that is too bad for the conservatives who have had the majority on the court since John Roberts became Chief Justice Sep. 29, 2005.  But unfortunately that may not help feminists enough here.

If the Supreme Court can’t decide, the decision will fall back to the lower court’s decision.  In Zubik, eight appeals courts have upheld the ACA mandate for non-church religious institutions, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled the other way, supporting the challenge by religious non-profit institutions. 

The US Senate is blocking President Obama from filling the seat.  However, we don’t know how President Obama’s Supreme Court Justice nominee would rule on this  or other women’s issues, as NOW President Terry O’Neill explained in “Statement by NOW President Terry O’Neill on the Supreme Court Justice Selection,” 3/16/16.


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