July 9, 2020
The Center for Inquiry denounced the Supreme Court’s decision today in the case of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, in which the Court ruled in favor of broad religious exemptions to the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act. CFI, which advocates for public policy based on science and secularism, decried the ruling for placing religious beliefs over the health of women and the rule of law.
“Once again, religious groups and corporations have been told to go ahead and ignore the rules that apply to everyone else, this time for the purpose of legitimizing antiquated dogma about contraception,” said Nick Little, Vice President and Legal Director of the Center for Inquiry. “Showing no regard for the well-being of employees, for women’s rights to bodily autonomy, or for the separation of church and state, the Supreme Court has done what Trump and his allies in Congress could never achieve through a normal legislative process: repeal an integral part of the Affordable Care Act.”
“Accommodations made to religious groups in the original law were already too extensive and now the Court has made it immeasurably worse,” said Robyn Blumner, CFI’s President and CEO. “Contraception is an integral part of women’s health care and should be part of any health insurance plan, but this Court has decided that an employer’s faith-based issues with contraception takes precedence,” she added. “Essentially the Court is approving of the idea that employers may impose their religion on their workers.”
During the Obama administration, the Department of Health and Human Services provided an accommodation for religious non-profit employers who informed the government of their objection to contraception, giving employees access to contraception without the religious group’s involvement. In Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled that this accommodation must be extended to religiously motivated for-profit corporations. In Zubick, religious groups—including Little Sisters of the Poor—protested that these accommodations did not go far enough, and the Supreme Court remanded the cases back to the Courts of Appeal to attempt to come to a resolution.
Accepting the argument by religious groups that merely applying for an exemption placed a “substantial burden” on religious freedom, the Trump administration made participation in the accommodation process voluntary, imposing no requirement on employers to even notify employees they would be denied contraceptive coverage. Pennsylvania and New Jersey sued to enjoin the new rules, and federal courts ruled that the administration’s expanded accommodation failed to follow the procedure mandated by law and was not required under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the administration was not in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act when it issued its rule without following the usual notice and comment requirements. CFI submitted a brief in the case, arguing that further accommodations to religious groups were not required by RFRA, and that to grant them would violate the Establishment Clause by favoring religion. The brief can be read here.