CONTACT: Tom Hargis, Director of Communications, ACLU of Texas, 832.291.4776, email@example.com
Houston – The Supreme Court today decided two cases involving challenges to the federal regulation that requires health insurance plans to cover contraception without cost sharing. Known as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell, the two cases were brought by for-profit companies that argued that requiring them to include contraception in their employees’ health plan violates their religious liberty rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The Court, in a 5-4 opinion, held that the “closely held” companies’ religious beliefs were substantially burdened by the requirement under the Affordable Care Act that insurance policies must cover FDA-approved contraception free of cost. The plaintiffs contended that the requirement violates their religious liberty by penalizing companies that refuse to provide their employees with insurance that covers access to contraception.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito assumed that the government does have a compelling interest in providing women access to preventive health care such as contraception. The majority nonetheless held that government has a less restrictive means of providing that benefit—permitting employers to use the same accommodation offered to religiously affiliated non-profits, which can opt out of the mandate for religious reasons and shift the requirement to insurance carriers to pay for the coverage.
The following can be attributed to Terri Burke, executive director, ACLU of Texas:
“Today’s decision is a step backward for women, who should be able to access important preventative health care such as birth control without interference from their employers. Almost all women use birth control at some point in their lives, and it is unthinkable that we could go back to a time when women could not readily access it or had to pay substantially more for their insurance than men. We call on Congress and the Obama administration to take immediate steps to ensure that all women can obtain the birth control that is right for them regardless of what their bosses think about it.”
The following can be attributed to Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director, ACLU of Texas:
“The Court’s decision is unprecedented. Everyone is entitled to his or her own religious beliefs, but that does not mean, and has never meant, that employers can use religion as an excuse to deny employees benefits required by law. The Court simply got it wrong. But we caution that employers should not view today’s decision as granting a religious opt-out from any law they don’t like. The Court was clear that today’s ruling does not mean it will sustain religious challenges to anti-discrimination laws, for example. The ACLU of Texas will fight any efforts to expand the reach of today’s decision to other contexts.“
The ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of the government on behalf of Julian Bond, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and others, arguing that religious beliefs cannot be invoked to justify discrimination.