The U.S Supreme Court decision in Little Sisters of the Poor v Pennsylvania (together with Trump v Pennsylvania ) to uphold the Trump Administration’s rule allowing virtually any employer to deny birth control coverage to their employees is a step backward for reproductive freedom and continues this Administration’s reckless attacks on the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
With the majority of people in this country receiving healthcare benefits through their employers, this discriminatory rule greatly broadens the ability of employers to deny essential healthcare to their employees simply due to purported “moral” or “religious” beliefs. Religious right and conservative moneyed interests continued championing and pushing this administrative rule during the COVID-19 pandemic, a global pandemic that has highlighted just how important equitable access to healthcare is. This push exposes their true motivations—to exert power over others and impose their harmful beliefs on everyone else.
There have long been laws and rules protecting the religious freedom of employers, including an Obama-era compromise to the ACA birth control benefit. Today’s ruling is not about expanding religious freedom; it is about shrinking workers’ rights and access to healthcare. Employees trade workers’ labor for compensation, including healthcare benefits. The denial of benefits based on an overly broad definition of “religious and moral beliefs” is nothing but discrimination against workers who don’t share their employer’s beliefs. As always, the negative impact of rules like these falls heaviest on low-wage workers and others struggling to access healthcare, such as women, People of Color, immigrants, and refugees, people in rural areas, and the LGBTQ+ community.
The Affordable Care Act was meant to expand access to quality, affordable healthcare for everyone, and the birth control benefit alone provided nearly 61.4 million people across the country with access to contraception without additional out-of-pocket costs. Today’s ruling is an attempt to roll back those gains, and it is a loss for those advocating for reproductive freedom and equality for all.