In a 7-2 decision, issued Wednesday, the Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration and the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns, in ruling that the administration acted properly when it extended an exemption from Obamacare’s birth control mandate to religious organizations.
The Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” requires that employers of a certain size that offer health insurance subscribe to policies that allow workers to obtain birth control free of charge. But some religious groups — most notably, Catholics — object to the use of chemical birth control to prevent pregnancy, leaving Catholic and other religious employers in a situation of having to defy the edicts of their faith and openly pay for birth control for employees.
The exemption, issued by the Trump administration, allows religious employers to opt-out of the mandate, simply shifting the burden of paying for contraception to the employee.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns, have been the leading plaintiff on cases involving the Obamacare contraception mandate, and after achieving a previous, limited win at the Supreme Court, the group received a much larger victory Wednesday with seven of the nine justices agreeing that religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate are proper.
“The court ruled 7-2 in favor of the Trump administration and the Catholic charity that cares for the elderly in two related disputes against Pennsylvania, which sued over the validity of a rule from the Trump administration that allowed religious-affiliated groups and some for-profit companies to opt-out of providing contraception coverage to employees,” Fox News reported.
“The majority opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, ruled that the Trump administration’s challenged rulemaking was aboveboard, and hailed the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor,” the outlet continued.
“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 wrote in the opinion. “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.”
“We hold today that the Departments had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption. We further hold that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects,” he concluded.
Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer sided with the court’s conservatives in the majority opinion, although they issued their own, separate explanation. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
Ginsburg was particularly incensed at the court’s ruling, accusing her colleagues of trampling women’s rights in pursuit of a religious agenda.
“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,” Ginsburg wrote. “Destructive of the Women’s Health Amendment, 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.”
Kagan and Breyer were clear that they judged the Trump administration’s authority alone and made no comment on its impact on other, unenumerated rights.
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