SCOTUS Decision On Wheaton College May Expand Hobby Lobby
In an unsigned order issued on Thursday, a majority of the US Supreme Court granted a temporary emergency injunction to Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois, ruling that the school does not have to comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA)contraceptive coverage benefit, prompting a severe rebuke from the three women Justices.
The decision comes on the heels of the Court's 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that closely-held corporations do not have to provide health insurance coverage of contraception if the owners of the corporation object on religious grounds. In Hobby Lobby, a majority of the Court determined that the ACA violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), noting that the ACA contraceptive coverage benefit was not the "least restrictive means" of obtaining the government's goal to provide preventive health services to women. In reaching that conclusion, the Court cited the fact that the government had provided an accommodation to religiously affiliated non-profits who opposed birth control.
Now, however, the Court has signaled that the accommodation itself - which requires religiously affiliated non-profits to submit a form declaring that it objects to providing contraceptive coverage - may not survive.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, issued a blistering dissent of the majority's opinion and of the Court on the whole. "Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word," she wrote. "Not so today." Justice Sotomayor continued, "Let me be absolutely clear, I do not doubt that Wheaton genuinely believes that signing the self-certification form is contrary to its religious beliefs. But thinking one's religious beliefs are substantially burdened--no matter how sincere or genuine that belief may be--does not make it so."
Justice Sotomayor said the decision to grant Wheaton a temporary injunction "evinces disregard for even the newest of this court's precedents and undermines confidence in this institution."
The ACA requires health insurance providers to cover preventive health services - including all FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs - without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempted entirely from the requirement. Certain non-profits, who object to contraception on religious grounds, can obtain an accommodation that would allow these groups not to provide contraceptives to their employees. If the non-profit has an employer-provided group health insurance plan, then the employer would submit a certification to the insurance issuer. The issuer would then have to provide contraceptive coverage. If the non-profit employer has a self-insured plan, one that relies on employer-contributions without outside insurance contributions, then the employer would contract with a third-party administrator who would pay for and process claims for contraceptive services.
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .