The Supreme Court ruled that more employers who cite religious or moral grounds can decline to offer cost-free birth control coverage to their workers, upholding Trump administration rules that could leave more than 70,000 women without free contraception.
The high court ruled 7-2 for the administration, which had made a policy change to allow some employers to opt out of providing the no-cost birth control required by the Obama-era health care law. Lower courts had previously blocked the Trump administration's changes.
The ruling is a big election-year win for President Donald Trump, who counts on heavy support from evangelicals and other Christian groups for votes and policy backing. The administration has the statutory authority to craft the rules, including “the contemporaneously issued moral exemption,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for a majority of the court. The government had previously estimated that the rule changes would cause about 70,000 women, and at most 126,000 women, to lose contraception coverage in one year. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited those numbers in dissenting. "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 wrote.
Separately on Wednesday, the Supreme Court sided with two Catholic schools in California in a decision underscoring that certain employees of religious schools, hospitals and social service centers can’t sue for employment discrimination. That ruling, too, was by 7-2, with Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented in both cases. The court had ruled unanimously in 2012 that the Constitution prevents ministers from suing their churches for employment discrimination, but at that time the justices didn’t specifically define who counts as a minister. The case decided on Wednesday involved lay teachers whose contracts had not been renewed.
With files from the Associated Press
Douglas Laycock, professor of law and religious studies at the University of Virginia; he co-authored amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in support of the petitioners in both cases
Michele Goodwin, chancellor’s professor of law and director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California, Irvine and author of multiple books, her latest is “Policing The Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood” (Cambridge, February 2020) she tweets @michelebgoodwin