SCOTUS Accepts Challenge to Contraception Mandate

by Laura McLaughlin


Earlier this month the Supreme Court accepted religious nonprofits’ request to challenge the health care’s mandate requiring them to provide contraceptives to their employees. Several groups have begun lawsuits, including The Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, and Christian colleges. The Supreme Court has consolidated seven similar cases which will collectively be referred to as Zubik v. Burwell, Zubik being the bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Burwell being the secretary of Health and Human Services.


Currently, in order to be eligible for exemption from the mandate, a religious organization must inform its insurance company that its religious beliefs oppose providing contraception, and from there a third party steps in to provide contraception. If institutions not exempt from the mandate fail to comply, they could face staggering fines capable of bankrupting them. Religious organizations find fault with this system, arguing that they are still complicit in providing services they believe to be immoral. The aprites bringing this issue to the attention of the Supreme Court hold that this is not simply a matter of organizations having an aversion to spending more money on their employees and being content with passing along this responsibility to the government, but rather holding deeply held religious beliefs practiced not just on Sundays or the privacy of their own homes, but in the work place and society.


These cases follow Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which held that according to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, corporations can be exempt from providing contraception coverage if doing so conflicts with the owner’s religious beliefs, just as churches and religious nonprofits are exempt. According to the law, the government must find the least burdensome way of enforcing mandates. However, Hobby Lobby did not win the case based on the first amendment, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The law only applies to individuals and not religious groups as was ruled in Employment Division v. Smith in 1990.


In favor of allowing exemptions, one judge has identified the issue as to whether groups “have a sincere religious belief that their participation in the accommodation process makes them morally and spiritually complicit in providing abortifacient coverage. Their affirmative answer to that question is not for us to dispute.” Opponents have argued that this view makes it possible to deny women access to birth control based on arbitrarily held beliefs and that women’s right to birth control is more important than allowing employers to adhere to these beliefs. 


The Supreme Courts will be deciding not only if religious organizations should be freed from the mandate, but also be able to prevent the government from stepping in to provide contraception via third parties. The Catholic Church maintains its position against individuals using and promoting artificial contraception, which is a form of social sin. Some, such as Sister Lorraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Baltimore, say that they want to be able to continue to provide their charitable services that they will not be able to do if forced to pay burdensome fines. Many religious organizations provide invaluable services to their communities, the survival of which is now uncertain if they refuse to violate their conscience.

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