Attacks on Women’s Reproductive Health in the Name of Religion

June 30, 2014

In several federal lawsuits filed in Michigan, private employers challenged the new requirement under the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”) that all employee health insurance plans include birth control prescription coverage.

These employers argued that the contraceptive mandate violated their right to religious liberty. Congress added the contraception prescription requirement to address discrimination against women, who have historically paid much higher out-of-pocket costs than men for reproductive health care.

The ACLU filed friend-of-the-court briefs in these cases in 2012 and 2013, arguing that just as employers cannot rely on religion to discriminate against racial and religious minorities, they cannot rely on religion to ignore civil rights laws protecting women. In one of the cases, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that corporations cannot exercise religion in the same way individuals can.

However, in June 2014 a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores that owners of closely-held, profit-making corporations can deny employees certain kinds of contraceptives based on the employers’ religious beliefs.

(Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius, Domino’s Farms Corp. v. Sebelius, Eden Foods, Inc. v. Sebelius, Legatus v. Sibelius, M.K. Chambers Co. v. Sebelius, and Mersino Management Co. v. Sebelius; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Miriam Aukerman, Sarah Mehta and Michael J. Steinberg; National ACLU Attorneys Brigitte Amiri and Daniel Mach.)

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