Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Supreme Court Hears Contraceptive Case

Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Zubik v. Burwell. This case hits upon the issue of providing contraceptives through the Affordable Care Act.

As of right now, the ACA does not require religious non-profit organizations to provide contraceptive coverage. It allows for them to either fill out a government form or write a letter so the government can organize contraceptive coverage to be provided. 

The plaintiffs in the case consists of about thirty religious organizations with the lead plaintiff being David Zubik, a Roman Catholic Bishop. The plaintiffs argue that  although they are not directly providing  contraceptive care, but their insurance plans are being used to provide that care.  The plaintiffs claim that the government is placing a substantial burden on their religious practices.

Seven of the appeals courts have come to the conclusion that the law does not put a substantial burden on the religious organizations. They argue that the process is simple and straightforward.  One appeals court argued that there was a substantial burden in the law. The court said that going through the accommodation process with monetary penalties provides a substantial burden on these organizations.

As of right now, the justices seem to be split. If the decision does end up splitting, the case either will have to be heard again when a ninth justice is selected or a split decision will be made, not setting precedent but upholding the decision of the appellate court.

Do you think that the ACA is providing a substantial burden on religious organizations?

Will this case further the heated debate over the nomination of another Supreme Court Justice?



Juliana Stahr said...

Great post Micheal! Personally, I do not believe this is too much of a burden for religious organizations. As of now, Hobby Lobby and other similar corporations will be required to notify their insurer of their objection to contraceptive coverage so that the insurer can still provide the contraceptive coverage directly to the employees and their dependents. I do not believe contacting an insurer would be too much of a burden. I believe that if one's religious beliefs go against the Affordable Care Act, one should be required to contact their insurance provider. I strongly believe that over time beliefs will change. With more information and education on contraceptives, people will begin to understand the several benefits that come with birth control. Bill control is not JUST for preventing pregnancies. Many people use birth control to lessen cramp pains or to remove cystic acne. Both issues are most often cured with birth control because the pill helps to balance hormones in the body. So no, ACA is not providing a burden. If a non-profit is religious, they most definitely should be required to explain why a woman should not have insurance covered for their birth control. This court case will absolutely continue the heated debate for future Supreme Court nominations. Right now, the contraceptive case was very much split. With a new, more liberal Supreme Court Justice, that result would no longer be the case. The religious, non-profit organization would most likely have to do more than just contact an insurer.


Huayu Ouyang said...

I agree with Juliana that this law is not a substantial burden for religious organizations, as they are not paying for the contraceptives at all and instead just notifying the government of their objection so that the government can get an insurance company to cover the cost of contraceptive coverage for the employees. Even though these companies argue that they have a substantial moral burden for having to implicitly allow contraceptive coverage, what about the burden on women who have to use birth control and other contraceptive coverage for many reasons, including ones unrelated to pregnancies such as hormone imbalances and health issues? However, according to the New York Times, "houses of worship do not have to file any paperwork if they choose not to provide contraception coverage," so since institutions like churches and temples don't need to, I'm not sure if religious organizations should also be held to that same standard.

I think that only have 8 justices could result in a tie vote in this case, so it would probably cause more debate over the Supreme Court justice nomination if this case were to be argued again in the Supreme Court after a ninth Justice is finally confirmed.

Emily Shen said...

In the oral arguments for this case, Justice Sotomayor asks Paul Clement (famous conservative attorney who has argued in a variety of SCOTUS cases, including this one), "What I don't understand, Mr. Clement, is when will any government law that someone claims burdens their practice ever be insubstantial? Because every believer that's ever come before us, including the people in the military, are saying that my soul will be damned in some way. I'm not naysaying that this is a very substantial perceived personal burden by them. But if that's always going to be substantial, how will we ever have a government that functions?" (

Like Huayu and Juliana, I do not believe that opting out presents a substantial burden, and providing contraceptive coverage is a valid compelling interest, especially, as the previous commenters have stated, because contraceptives can be used for purposes other than birth control. These organizations aren't even paying for the contraceptives. And if these organizations are so committed to their religion, aren't they entitled in this case to discriminate on the basis of religion so they know for sure none of their workers will even ask for contraceptive coverage?

Finally, while religious freedom is something that must be upheld, it should not be upheld to the extent that it infringes on others' freedoms. What would happen, for example, if an employer refused to provide coverage for vaccinations because that went against their religious beliefs?