Supreme Court Takes For-Profit Companies' Challenge to Birth Control Benefit

WASHINGTONComing in the midst of the first open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Supreme Court Tuesday agreed to hear oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, consolidating both cases brought by for-profit businesses.

"Birth control is accepted medical practice, rooted in solid science and good public policy. It is critical to women's ability to plan their lives and their families," said Susan Berke Fogel, director of reproductive health programs for the National Health Law Program (NHeLP). "The ACA's coverage benefits come with the full backing of medical standards of care and are consistent with decades of established federal policy. Yet remarkably, a for-profit arts-and-craft store and a cabinetmaker are now asking the Supreme Court to take this benefit away from their employees."

The ACA requires near-universal insurance coverage of all Federal Drug Administration-approved birth control methods and supplies. Churches and houses of worship are completely exempt from the requirement. In addition, the Obama Administration granted an accommodation for many nonprofit religiously affiliated entities.

As outlined in NHeLP's extensive report, birth control is consistently recommended by medical standards across the board, especially for women with serious medical conditions where pregnancy could endanger their lives. The ACA recognized this and also recognized that birth control costs, which can run up to $600 a year, create a barrier for low-income women, disproportionately affecting women of color. Therefore, the ACA requires that insurance plans cover the full cost of contraceptives as part of an individual's premium.

The provision has been one of the most popular, benefiting more than 20 million women. Despite this, 44 businesses have challenged the requirement.

"Businesses, bosses and bureaucrats--none of the above should stand between a woman and her health," said Fogel. "A woman must be able to make these important decisions based on science and her personal needs, not the beliefs of her boss."

NHeLP is a leader on the issue of access to health care based on ideological or political claims, commonly known as health-care refusals. NHeLP's groundbreaking report, Health Care Refusals: Undermining Quality Care for Women has been cited by leading health authorities and policy makers. NHeLP is monitoring the 70-plus contraceptive coverage cases and has filed nine amicus briefs defending the provision.

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