The Supreme Court will take another crack at Obamacare’s contraception mandate.
The court agreed Friday to hear another lawsuit challenging the birth-control requirement, this one filed by religious nonprofits. Roughly two years after the Court rolled back the contraception mandate in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, the nonprofits say the court needs to go a step further.
The contraception mandate isn’t particularly intertwined with the rest of Obamacare, so another ruling against it wouldn’t threaten the law as a whole. But the provision has become a political lightning rod, pitting women’s-health advocates against religious organizations.
And Friday’s decision to hear the contraception case might only be the beginning. The Court is widely expected to take up an abortion case later this term—setting the stage for high-profile rulings on both abortion and contraception, just months before the 2016 elections.
The contraception mandate
Obamacare requires most employers to cover certain preventive services in their employees’ health care plans, without cost-sharing like a co-pay or deductible. And, based on the recommendation of an expert scientific panel, the Health and Human Services Department included all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives in the definition of preventive services.
Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the mandate. Religious-affiliated employers—like the nonprofits in this case—have a middle ground. They don’t have to directly provide coverage for contraception in their health care plans. And they don’t have to pay for that coverage, either.
Instead, they’re required to fill out a form registering their objections to birth control, and the duty for providing it shifts to their insurance companies.
The Little Sisters’ objection
A group of religious nonprofits, led by the Little Sisters of the Poor, an organization of nuns, says the workaround for religious-affiliated employers doesn’t go far enough.
They object to filling out the form that registers their religious objections to contraception coverage. Because they have to fill out that form, they say, HHS is making them participate in a process that still ends with their employees’ health care plans including contraception.
And they say that’s just as objectionable as providing it directly. They want to be exempted entirely from the mandate.
“It is all well and good for HHS to think it has threaded the needle and found a way for religious nonprofits to comply with the mandate without violating their religious beliefs, but ultimately it is for the religious adherent to determine how much facilitation or complicity is too much,” the Little Sisters said in a brief to the high court.
How this is different from Hobby Lobby
Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, the 2014 case in which the Court weakened the contraception mandate, was slightly different from today’s challenge. That case dealt with for-profit companies rather than nonprofits. Until the Court intervened, for-profit companies had to provide contraception coverage themselves; they didn’t have access to the “accommodation” that lets nonprofits shift the burden to their insurance companies.
The Obama administration argues that, by creating a different process for religious nonprofits, it has already tailored the contraception mandate so that it will impose the smallest possible burden on religious exercise—and that’s what the Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires.
Not surprisingly, the Little Sisters disagree. They argue that the two cases are extremely similar, and that courts are simply misapplying the obvious point of Hobby Lobby.
“Indeed, the burden here is not just analogous to the burden in Hobby Lobby; it is identical,” the Little Sisters wrote in their brief.
Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled and, as always, the Court did not explain why it took the case.
What We're Following See More »
At the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump announced his support for allowing teachers to carry concealed firearms at schools. "Why do we protect our airports, our banks, our government buildings, but not our schools?" Trump asked the audience. "It's time to make our schools a much harder target ...When we declare our schools to be gun free zones, it just puts our students in far more danger." Trump said that roughly "10 or 20 percent" of teachers were very adept with guns, and that "a teacher would have shot the hell out of him [the shooter] before he knew what happened. They love their students, folks, remember that."
Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is expected to plead guilty to a raft of new tax and fraud charges filed against him by special counsel Robert Mueller on Thursday. Gates is expected to cooperate with Mueller's investigation.
Documents from a federal corruption investigation into the "underbelly of college basketball" detail an extensive recruiting operation implicating at least 20 Division I basketball programs, including Duke, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan State, USC, and Alabama. "The documents ... link some of the sport’s biggest current stars to specific potential extra benefits for either the athletes or their family members. The amounts tied to players in the case range from basic meals to tens of thousands of dollars." NCAA president Mark Emmert said the allegations, if true, "point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America."
Donald Trump is expected to announce a new round of sanctions against North Korea during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, later this morning. The Treasury Department "will get into the details later in the day," although a senior administration official called the new penalties "'the largest package of new sanctions against the North Korea regime.'" Pence blasted North Korea in his speech to CPAC, calling Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Jo Yong, who reportedly pulled out of a meeting with him at the Olympics, “a central pillar of the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet.”