The Right’s Ongoing Battle Against the Birth Control Benefit

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Analysis Law and Policy

The Right’s Ongoing Battle Against the Birth Control Benefit

Imani Gandy & Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Supreme Court will hear arguments this week in the second direct challenge to the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act. It's a fight that's been years in the making.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in Zubik v. Burwell regarding the requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for certain employer-sponsored health insurance plans to cover contraception as preventive care with no additional co-pay—also known as the birth control benefit.

Before the Court are seven cases that have been consolidated for one hearing: (1) Zubik v. Burwell; (2) Priests for Life v. Department of Health and Human Services; (3) Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Burwell; (4) East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell; (5) Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell; (6) Geneva College v. Burwell; and (7) The Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell

These challengers are various Catholic and evangelical schools, charities, and affiliated associations such as nursing homes and hospitals. They all oppose contraception on religious grounds, and they all want the Supreme Court to absolve them of the birth control benefit. In effect, they want the same deal that churches and other houses of worship got: a full exemption from compliance with the law.

But giving those organizations that exemption would result in thousands of people being blocked, because of their employers’ objections, to the full range of benefits guaranteed to them under the ACA. So instead, the Obama administration crafted an accommodation process that allows for religious nonprofits to self-certify, either to their insurer or the Department of Health and Human Services directly, that they oppose contraception on religious grounds. From there, their obligations end with regard to coordinating or otherwise being involved in contraception coverage.

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Still, religious nonprofits believe that the self-certification process itself—filling out paperwork and notifying the government of their eligibility for the accommodation—acts as a “trigger” for coverage.

Below is a timeline that explains how we got from the passage of one of the most important pieces of legislation of Obama’s presidency to a deluge of suits challenging an innocuous provision of the law that has become a touchstone for the raging culture war being played out on women’s bodies.