Earlier this week, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor grabbed some headlines (and understandably caused some confusion) after she temporarily blocked implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit requirement as applied to religiously affiliated organizations. To be clear: the dispute does not in any way involve whether or not churches and places of worship are exempt from covering birth control (they are). Rather, the dispute is about other, religiously affiliated organizations, and how they can choose to “opt out” of the requirement.
When birth control with no copay became available under the Affordable Care Act’s preventive health benefit, the Obama administration made an accommodation for these religiously affiliated institutions and places of worship. That accommodation still exists and these organizations object to having to sign a form by which they can opt out. All Justice Sotomayor did was to temporarily suspend this requirement while awaiting the response from the Justice Department. The Justice Department quickly responded to Sotomayor, filing a brief making clear that the organizations that filled the emergency challenge are not required to cover contraception for its employees.
Importantly, the ruling did not affect the 27 million women who have access to birth control with no out-of-pocket costs thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Each and every day women are leading healthier lives because of the preventive care benefit, which includes access to birth control. However, the discussion around birth control in 2014 is just beginning. While these latest legal actions are making headlines, a bigger question lies on the horizon, and will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in the spring.
The Supreme Court will be faced with the question of whether for-profit companies should be able to deny women access to birth control based on their personal beliefs when they hear the cases brought by Hobby Lobby—a large craft store chain—and Conestoga Wood Specialties—a cabinet manufacturer. Not only could these cases affect the millions of women who already have access to birth control with no copay under their insurance, but it could also create a slippery slope where any boss could deny a whole host of other medical procedures, such as vaccines, surgeries, blood transfusions, and mental health care, based on his own personal beliefs.
The choice to use birth control should be between a woman and her doctor, not between a woman and her employer. Women don’t turn to their bosses for medical advice, they shouldn’t have to ask their boss whether they can get access to birth control or not. The Supreme Court will be faced with this question in their upcoming session, and we will keep you posted along the way.