Another battle over the Affordable Care Act goes before the Supreme Court of the United States today as the justices hear two cases challenging the contraception coverage mandate in the health care law.
Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 13-354, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, 13-356, raise the issue of whether the First Amendment or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allow a for-profit corporation to deny its employees health insurance for contraceptives based on the owners’ religious opposition to birth control. The ACA includes an exemption for some religious organizations but not for for-profit businesses.
Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Dawn Johnsen co-authored an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Guttmacher Institute and Sara Rosenbaum, professor at George Washington University, in support of the contraception coverage guarantee. The brief details the harm to women, their families and the public health that would result if the court were to rule in favor of the corporations and argues that the proper interpretation of the law avoids these harms.
The cases before the Supreme Court are not the first challenges to the contraception provision. The University of Notre Dame tried to get a preliminary injunction against the birth control mandate but failed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division and on appeal before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In her brief, Johnsen and her co-author, former acting solicitor general Walter Dellinger, argue that allowing for-profit employers to deny women access to contraceptive coverage will force many women to use birth control methods that are not optimal for their health and are far less effective.
They further argue that the empirical data shows if the court allows employers’ religious objections to limit women’s health care decisions in this way, women not only will suffer economic harm and an affront to their own religious and moral views, they also will experience greater numbers of unintended pregnancies, some of which will end in abortions.