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Supreme Court Preview: The Affordable Care Act, Contraceptive Coverage and Religious Freedom

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On March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, that challenge the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly referred to as Obamacare, mandate that employers are required to provide contraceptive coverage to women. In both cases, the employers maintain they do not have to provide reproductive health coverage based on the religious beliefs of the company’s owners.

The employers in these cases argue that the ACA provisions for reproductive health coverage violate religious freedom which is guaranteed under the Constitution – even though it is the corporation that is required to provide health coverage, by the ACA, not the individual or business owner. This argument that for-profit corporations have a right to the free exercise of religion is a distraction from the core issue in these cases: the protection of public health, and in particular, the rights of women to have equal access to health care coverage.

The League of Women Voters has a long-standing interest in programs and policies that provide access to health care for all residents of the United States. Since 1992, when League members studied the issue of health care, we have worked for comprehensive health care coverage for all Americans. The League also has a strong commitment to the concept that public policy in a pluralistic society must affirm the right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices

The League opposes exemptions that would allow public institutions, including schools and hospitals, to fail to provide full health insurance under the ACA to their female employees, including contraceptive services. By denying women access to needed health care coverage based on ill-defined religious or moral objections, the court would be promoting discrimination based on sex.

In the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, the League has joined an amicus brief that argues two key points. First, providing contraception is critical to women’s health and providing it with no cost-sharing promotes a governmental interest in public health. Second, the provision in the Affordable Care Act that covers these cost-sharing measures helps address the gender gaps in health insurance and ensures that women can meet their basic preventive health care needs.

The League would strongly disagree with a decision that supports a religious or moral objection to health care coverage and turns back the clock for women and for American society. We will continue to be active in this case and work to ensure that health care coverage is comprehensive and covers all Americans.

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