Zubik v Burwell is the fourth time that the Supreme Court weighed in on the Affordable Care Act, making it one of the most contested pieces of modern legislation. This case consolidated seven cases around the country attacking the law’s requirement to provide no-cost birth control to female employees.
The case is a response to the decision in 2014 from the Supreme Court to allow companies to opt-out so that they are protected from being sued over the new regulations. The groups, including the Little Sisters of the Poor are not automatically covered under the exemption for houses of worship because they are religious non-profits. The plaintiffs in this case range from religious entities and small service organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic Nuns.
What are the current accommodations?
Currently, if a company has a religious objection, they have a system in place where they fill out a form, which notifies the government of their objection to provide free contraception. Then, the government steps in and along with insurance companies, provides the contraceptives to employees, dependents or students without charge.
Groups that are opposed to the case stand behind the beliefs that access to contraception is essential to women’s equality, regardless of religious affiliation, and that the government is providing adequate accommodations to groups who do not want to provide free contraception.
Why are they arguing to not be required to provide birth control?
The First Amendment protects and individual’s right to freely exercise their faith. The plaintiffs say that the government cannot force them to violate their religious beliefs by allowing the new health care laws to serve as the vessel for contraceptives to be distributed.
The organizations, particularly the Little Sisters, would face crippling fines if they refuse to sign the opt-out form that allows insurance companies to step in and cover the drugs regardless of the company’s wishes. The Little Sisters claim that the mere act of signing the form makes them complicit in sin, and hope to gain the full exemption that houses of worship receive.
Many politicians, including Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, are weighing in on this case. Ryan recently said during a press conference, “The last thing the federal government should do is make their jobs harder” . He also comments on how the new laws are forcing them to violate their faith.
The Supreme Court heard arguments from this case today. Due to the fact that there are only eight justices on the court currently, it is highly possible, and projected by many, that there could be a tie vote on this matter. In the instance that this were to happen, the court would have “no opinion” and the lower court decisions would stay in place.
According to many liberal activists, a decision in favor of the religious non-profits could potentially open up doors to challenge the laws recently put in place to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination
The court is expected to rule on Zubik v. Burwell by the end of June.
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