You’ve heard about the for-profit companies challenging the birth control coverage benefit. In March, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in two for-profit cases, brought by Hobby Lobby, a nationwide arts and crafts store with over 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a wood cabinet manufacturer with nearly 1,000 employees. A decision in those cases is expected in June.
Meanwhile, non-profits with religious objections to birth control coverage have also challenged the benefit, with over 30 cases currently pending. Those cases are making their way through the courts and, on Thursday, the D.C. Circuit and Sixth Circuit Courts of Appeal will hear oral argument in two sets of non-profit cases.
Here are 5 things to know about the challenges to the birth control coverage benefit brought by non-profits with religious objections:
- Houses of worship are exempt from providing birth control coverage to their employees. This means that employees of churches and other houses of worship do not have any access to birth control coverage through their health insurance plan.
- The birth control coverage rule provides for an accommodation for non-profits with religious objections to birth control coverage. The accommodation ensures that employees receive birth control coverage no matter where they work, while their employer does not have to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for that coverage.
- To take advantage of the accommodation, all a non-profit that holds itself out as religious has to do is fill out a form stating that it is a non-profit that has religious objections to birth control. Once the non-profit sends this form to its insurance company (or its third party administrator (TPA) if it is self-insured), the insurance company or TPA must arrange to provide the non-profit’s employees with birth control coverage. The non-profit itself neither pays for nor contracts for birth control coverage – all it has to do is fill out a form.
- For many non-profit employers with religious objections to birth control, the start date for the accommodation was January 1, 2014. That’s why the new year brought a flurry of activity in the non-profit cases: several non-profits brought emergency motions to the courts, asking that the courts block the birth control coverage benefit while the cases continue to make their way through the courts. Two appellate courts denied these emergency motions, while the two other appellate courts granted the motions. (It’s also why the Supreme Court weighed in with a short decision granting temporary relief in the Little Sisters of the Poor case). The cases then went back down to the district courts and are now heading back up to the courts of appeal. Only the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has heard argument in and made a decision on this issue, denying a preliminary injunction to the University of Notre Dame.
- On Thursday, the D.C. Circuit and the Sixth Circuit Courts of Appeal will hear argument in two sets of consolidated cases brought by non-profit organizations. The non-profits argue that even the accommodation (in other words, filling out the form) amounts to a substantial burden on their religious exercise, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Moreover, they argue that this substantial burden trumps the harm done to female employees and covered family members who lose out on birth control coverage to which the law entitles them.
So, even the compromise created through the accommodation does not meet the demands of some bosses who oppose insurance coverage of birth control. Now, these bosses seek a total exemption from the law, which would result in their female employees and covered family members being denied access to birth control coverage, even though they don’t have to provide that benefit. A health benefit that has been and continues to be key to women’s health and women’s equality. Remember, 99% of sexually active women – and 98% of sexually active Catholic women – use birth control at some point during their reproductive years. They shouldn’t be denied birth control coverage because they work for a non-profit that objects to filing out a form in which it states its objection to birth control, again, even though they don’t have to provide the coverage. They shouldn’t be denied important religious exercise protections, which allow each person to participate equally in society regardless of their own religious beliefs and regardless of where they work.