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U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Second Attack on ACA Birth Control Benefit

Nonprofits fighting to interfere with employees’ access to affordable health care despite existing accommodation

(PRESS RELEASE) The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to hear seven cases brought by nonprofit organizations seeking to deny their employees affordable health insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act, despite the existing accommodation allowing them to opt out of directly covering the services by filling out a simple form.

The cases challenge a federal policy allowing employers to shift the obligation to cover all FDA-approved forms of contraception onto a third-party administrator or insurance company by filling out a simple one-page form. The plaintiffs argue that completing this form represents a “substantial burden” on their beliefs, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

The decision comes less than two years after Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the Supreme Court ordered the Obama Administration to make the accommodation--previously only available to non-profit entities--available to closely held for-profit corporations.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“The task of filling out a simple form is nothing compared to the burdens women face when they cannot access affordable contraception and reproductive health care.

“Employers are no more entitled to interfere with access to insurance coverage for birth control than they are able to dictate how employees can spend their paychecks or what they can do on their days off.

“It’s time for the nation’s highest court to use this opportunity to ensure that no woman’s boss has the right to control her private decisions about her health and family.”


The cases taken up by the Supreme Court today are:

  • East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell
  • Geneva College v. Burwell
  • Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell
  • Priests for Life v. Dep’t of Health and Human Services
  • Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Burwell
  • Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell
  • Zubik v. Burwell

Ninety-nine percent of all sexually active women in the U.S. use birth control at some point during their reproductive years. The Affordable Care Act’s expanded coverage for contraception vastly increases the accessibility of birth control for women who need it, especially those interested in using long-acting reversible contraception like intrauterine devices (IUDs), which are more effective, but often have a higher up-front cost.

The Affordable Care Act—which was signed into law more than three years ago and upheld in 2012 by the U.S. Supreme Court—vastly expands women’s access to preventive health care without copayments, including contraception, cancer screenings, HIV and STI testing, well-woman visits, breastfeeding support, and prenatal and post-partum care and counseling. After decades of inconsistent coverage of contraception by insurance plans, the health care law requires all insurance policies to cover birth control with no out-of-pocket cost to women.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with co-counsel Morrison & Foerster and Prof. Noah Novogrodsky of the University of Wyoming School of Law, filed an amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby case on behalf of professors specializing in comparative and foreign law with the U.S. Supreme Court.  In it, the professors explained that there is no international precedent for privileging objectors’ religious concerns over women’s access to basic health care.

Furthermore, the United States has rightfully cited the benefits of the Affordable Care Act as evidence of the nation’s compliance with its human rights treaty obligations and other global agreements on sustainable development. The brief also demonstrated that courts and statutes around the globe have recognized that individual religious or conscience rights only apply to those directly providing care, and not to institutions or businesses. 

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