Supreme Court allows Trump to roll back Obamacare contraceptive mandate for religious reasons

The government estimates that 70,000 to 126,000 women could lose access to free birth control

By Roger Sollenberger

Published July 8, 2020 12:42PM (EDT)

The US Supreme Court (Getty Images)
The US Supreme Court (Getty Images)

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a 7-2 decision to expand exemptions in the Affordable Care Act which allow employers and universities with religious or moral objections to deny women access to free birth control.

The ruling upheld a Trump administration rule, which expanded the range of employers allowed to decline contraceptive care based on religious reasons. It is a major victory for the religious right.

The Obama administration carved out narrow exemptions in the ACA — better known as Obamacare — for places of worship and certain organizations, such as religiously-affiliated hospitals and schools. Under those guidelines, the government would still cover contraceptive care, but the organizations would not have to pay the costs if they so objected.

The Trump administration expanded those exemptions to essentially all nongovernmental workplaces, from small businesses to multinational corporations. The government estimates that 70,000 to 126,000 women could lose access to free birth control.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said the administration has "virtually unbridled discretion to decide what counts as preventive care and screenings," including the ability to "identify and create exemptions from its own guidelines."

The ruling sent the case back to a lower court with directions to lift the nationwide injunction blocking implementation of the new rule.

Though they did not join the majority opinion, liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan agreed to send the case back to the lower court.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

"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," they said, adding that the ruling "leaves women workers to fend for themselves" in seeking contraceptive services.

The court also announced that Thursday would be the last day of the current term, setting the stage for a much-anticipated ruling on the President Donald Trump's tax returns.

Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger is a staff writer at Salon. Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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