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SCOTUS: Employers Can Opt Out of ACA's Birth Control Mandate Due to Religious, Moral Objections

Analysis  |  By Jack O'Brien  
   July 08, 2020

The high court ruled in Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania that the administration's rules "satisfy the Administrative Procedure Act's notice requirements."

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday morning that the Trump administration has authority under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to allow employers to opt out of the law's birth control mandate due to religious and moral objections.

In October 2017, the Trump administration issued a rule that would allow employers to deny birth control coverage to female employees based on religious or moral grounds.

In November 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services announced exemptions to the ACA's mandate, stating in a fact sheet that accompanied the rules that the change would affect no more than 200 employers and coverage for 6,400 employees, with a maximum of 127,000 women impacted.

These exemptions were halted in January 2019 by a federal judge in Pennsylvania as part of a nationwide injunction.

In Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, the high court reached a 7-2 decision that the administration's rules "satisfy the Administrative Procedure Act's notice requirements."

Delivering the court's opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Trump administration "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."

The ruling came less than two weeks after the Department of Justice filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the entire ACA must be struck down.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

"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.

Reactions from both sides of the aisle began to pour in after the ruling was handed down.

The American Life League (ALL), a Catholic grassroots pro-life organization, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon referring to the ruling as a "victory for truth, justice, and Catholic teaching!"

"We congratulate the Little Sisters of the Poor and commend the Supreme Court justices who placed truth and common sense above politics," Judie Brown, president of the ALL, said in a statement.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., tweeted her disapproval with the ruling, calling it a "shameful decision by the Supreme Court that will deny up to 126,000 employees birth control coverage."

Meanwhile, Rep. Doug Lamborn, (R-Colo.), tweeted that he was thankful for the court's ruling, calling it a "huge win for the first amendment and religious freedom!"

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional commentary about the Supreme Court's ruling.

Jack O'Brien is the Content Team Lead and Finance Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: WASHINGTON DC - CIRCA MARCH 2015: The Supreme Court of the United States is located in Washington DC just a short distance away from the Capitol building. / Editorial credit: stock_photo_world /

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