Justices wary of ‘Obamacare’ birth control coverage changes
|Story Source with images
By JESSICA GRESKO and MARK SHERMAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court seemed concerned Wednesday about the sweep of Trump administration rules that would allow more employers who cite a religious or moral objection to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women as required by the Affordable Care Act.
The justices were hearing their third day of arguments conducted by telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic. The first of two cases before them Wednesday stemmed from the Obama-era health law, under which most employers must cover birth control as a preventive service, at no charge to women, in their insurance plans.
In 2017, the Trump administration announced it would broaden an exemption to the contraceptive coverage requirement that previously applied to houses of worship, such as churches, synagogues and mosques. But the change was blocked by courts.
The Supreme Court’s four liberal justices suggested they were troubled by the changes, which the government has estimated would cause about 70,000 women, and at most 126,000 women, to lose contraception coverage in one year.
Chief Justice John Roberts, a key vote on a court split between conservatives and liberals, suggested that the Trump administration’s reliance on a federal religious freedom law to expand the exemption was “too broad.”
And Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who joined the conversation from a Maryland hospital where she was being treated for an infection caused by a gallstone, gave the government’s top Supreme Court lawyer, Solicitor General Noel Franciso, what sounded like a lecture.
“You have just tossed entirely to the wind what Congress thought was essential, that is that women be provided these .... services with no hassle, no cost to them,” said Ginsburg, who was released from the hospital later Wednesday.
The court’s conservative justices seemed more willing to side with the administration, with Trump appointee Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggesting the administration’s changes might be considered “within the bounds of reasonable.”
Beyond exempting churches, synagogues and mosques from the contraceptive coverage requirement, the Obama administration also created a way by which religiously affiliated organizations including hospitals, universities and charities could opt out of paying for contraception, but women on their health plans would still get no-cost birth control. Some groups complained the opt-out process itself violated their...