In what United Church of Christ advocates are calling an "affront to the religious liberty of women across the country," the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Monday, June 30, that for-profit employers with religious objections can opt out of providing contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Justices ruled 5-4 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a decision which could open the door to other employers seeking to withhold coverage for medical procedures that do not align with the company's religious beliefs.
"The Court's decision today is in fact an affront to the religious liberty of women across the country, who we believe have a right to make decisions based on the dictates of their moral conscience and religious beliefs," said Sandy Sorenson, director of the UCC's Washington, D.C., office. "This decision has troubling implications for the health care of women and families."
The case challenged what is considered a controversial provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires companies with more than 50 employees to cover preventive care services, which include contraceptives such as morning-after pills, diaphragms and IUDs. The ruling states that for-profit companies cannot be required to pay to cover some types of contraceptives for their employees.
The case's plaintiffs, the owners of the craft store Hobby Lobby, furniture maker Conestoga Wood Specialties and Christian bookseller Mardel, argued that the Affordable Care Act violates the First Amendment protection of religious freedom because it requires them to provide coverage for contraceptives like the morning-after pill, which the companies consider equal to abortion, and in opposition to their religious beliefs.
In the case's dissenting opinion signed by the three female justices and justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested the court's conservative majority decided that religious objections to contraception trump laws guaranteeing a woman’s right to full health care.
"Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be 'perceived as favoring one religion over another,' the very 'risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude," Ginsburg added."The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield."
Since 1971, the UCC has affirmed a women's right to the freedom of choice when it comes to her personal medical care, including unwanted pregnancies, and has supported services that encourage responsible family planning. The UCC has a long history of advocating against legislators at all levels who aim to restrict the access of women to safe, comprehensive reproductive health care with a full range of options, and, since 1991, has also publicly supported freedom of speech and freedom of information regarding medical options for women.
"Since the early 1970s, the United Church of Christ General Synod has long witnessed to this fundamental right of conscience, one central to our religious forbearers," Sorenson said. "We are particularly concerned that those women most impacted by the inability to access the full range of reproductive health services are low-income and working women, who do not otherwise have the means to access such care.
"We will continue to work with our partners to advocate for policies that ensure access to affordable, comprehensive reproductive health care services for all women."