The US Supreme Court has agreed to take up seven cases in which religiously affiliated employers are trying to deny women birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Although the ACA mandates contraceptive coverage without a copay for all women, it includes an exception that allows religious employers to refuse to provide birth control in their health plans, and require employees to obtain it separately from third-party administrators or their health care plan. That isn’t enough for the nonprofits that are suing to deny their female employees access to contraception, who want the Court to grant them a blanket exemption to the health-care law.
The outcome of the case could have a major impact on women’s access to birth-control coverage nationwide. The court will likely schedule oral arguments for 2016, with a ruling late in the coming term.
We’re still waiting to see if the Supremes will take up another case related to women’s health, this one about the TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws that threaten to shut down all but ten clinics in Texas and to shutter the only remaining abortion provider in Mississippi. The Guardian has a concise explanation of the case, which will determine, in short, whether the constitutionally protected right to access abortion will be real or merely theoretical.
The states argue that their laws, which require hospital admitting privileges and emergency-room-like medical equipment and facilities at women’s health clinics, don’t place an undue burden on women’s ability to exercise their constitutional right to choose; women’s rights advocates, including NARAL, argue that when women have to drive hundreds of miles and cross state lines to access the nearest clinic, they no longer have meaningful access to abortion services.
The Guardian explains:
Should the supreme court agree to hear either case, the consequences loom large. Eight states have passed highly similar abortion restrictions that are now mired in court battles. A ruling on the Texas or Mississippi law would in effect end those lawsuits, with implications for some 30 abortion providers.
Even more crucially, both cases ask the justices to clarify how far a state can go in passing laws that regulate abortion clinics before a measure becomes unconstitutional. Lower courts have been tussling with this question since 1992, when the supreme court ruled in Planned Parenthood v Casey. The decision gave states the right to restrict abortion in the interest of the woman’s health as long as the restriction is not an “undue burden”. But the high court has never clarified the phrase’s meaning.
Whole Woman’s Health is pushing the supreme court to recognize a law as an undue burden if it does not serve an actual health purpose. If the supreme court were to agree, it would force lower courts to scrutinize the evidence behind many new abortion restrictions. Reproductive rights groups and many mainstream medical organizations maintain that there is little medical evidence for the Texas or Mississippi laws and their many copycats. Indeed, courts that have examined the evidence for new restrictions have tended to rule against abortion foes.
Finally, if you’re wondering what Plan B, the emergency contraception pill does (prevent pregnancy) and doesn’t (cause abortions) do, check out Cosmo’s handy guide to “Six Things You Never Knew About Plan B.”