The Trump administration continues to misuse religious freedom to deny reproductive health care to millions of people.
Particularly in the midst of a pandemic, our government should be protecting America’s workers and students, not putting them at risk and calling it religious freedom. But that’s exactly what the Trump administration is doing with proposed rules that would allow employers and universities to use religion to deny birth control coverage to workers and students.
Religious freedom means letting people make their own health care decisions based on their conscience – free from interference by the government or employers. By keeping religion separate from government, we can protect religious freedom AND reproductive freedom for all.
At Americans United, we defend the right of everyone to practice a faith – or no faith at all – as long as they don’t harm others.
On July 8, 2020, the US Supreme Court ruled in Trump v. Pennsylvania, giving the Trump administration broad authority to enact sweeping exemptions permitting employers and universities to interfere with the provision of birth control coverage for employees and students. Because the court decided that the Trump administration had regulatory authority under the ACA, the justices declined to decide whether the rules were allowed or even required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Americans United joined more than 20 interfaith and civil rights organizations to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of religious freedom and affordable reproductive health care access.
Americans United will continue to fight for real religious freedom for all, representing people who are denied their rights by those who use religion to exclude, discriminate and coerce. Reproductive freedom is religious freedom.
Under the Affordable Care Act, most employers must offer health insurance plans that cover preventive care at no cost to beneficiaries. This preventive care includes coverage of contraceptives, which are critical to people’s health, equality and economic security. Thanks to this benefit, an estimated 62 million people have been able to access birth control at no additional cost.
The government exempted houses of worship from complying with this part of the ACA. And for other religiously affiliated nonprofits with religious objections to contraceptives, the government offered an accommodation: sign a written notice of objection and the government would work with a third-party provider to ensure employees had access to reproductive health care without involving the employer. Through court challenges, this accommodation was later extended to some for-profit corporations like the craft store chain Hobby Lobby.
But some employers said even filling out the opt-out form burdened their religious freedom, and about 70 religious organizations sued the government. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court failed to resolve these challenges, instructing the parties to work out a compromise that would respect religious objections while ensuring that students and employees had access to reproductive health care.
Shortly after taking office in 2017, President Trump issued new rules that would allow employers and universities to use religion to deny birth control coverage to employees and students. The rules create a religious exemption for any employer that wants it, including for-profit corporations. And the rules don’t require employers to tell the government they’re not providing contraceptive coverage – which means the government won’t know which employees don’t have coverage and can’t make arrangements to provide people with access to this critical care through other means.
Several lawsuits challenged the Trump rules, and in July 2019, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction blocking the rules from going into effect nationwide. But the Trump administration has continued its crusade against reproductive freedom – all the way to the Supreme Court.