Supreme Court allows religious exemption for employers opposed to contraceptives

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that nonprofit employers with religious or moral objections do not have to help provide insurance coverage for contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act.

The ruling seeks to end a longstanding battle by the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups that wanted no role in providing birth control coverage. It upholds a Trump administration policy allowing for both religious and moral exemptions. It was written by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and joined by the court’s other conservatives. Associate Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer agreed with the result but warned the legal battle may not be over. Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

“For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother,” Thomas said. “But for the past seven years, they – like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today’s decision – have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Ginsburg issued a harsh rebuke to the court’s ruling.

“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,” she said. “This court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets.” The case, which had confounded the justices for several years, represented the latest but not the last challenge to the Affordable Care Act a decade after its passage. The high court has upheld the law twice and will hear a third challenge in the fall – one in which the Trump administration recommends the entire law be struck down.

It was one of three major religious freedom cases heard by the court this term. In June, the justices ruled that a state may not deny financial support for religious education if it has decided to provide such support for private secular schools. And on Wednesday, it also ruled that religious schools can fire teachers without being subject to job discrimination lawsuits.

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