WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday cleared the way for the Trump administration to give the nation’s employers more leeway in refusing to provide free birth control for their workers under the Affordable Care Act.
The ruling is a victory for the administration’s plan to greatly expand the kinds of employers who can cite religious or moral objections in declining to include contraceptives in their health care plans.
Up to 126,000 women nationwide would lose birth control coverage under the plan, the government estimated. Planned Parenthood said nearly nine in 10 women seek contraceptive care of some kind during their lifetimes.
Since Congress passed Obamacare in 2010, the issue of which employers can decline offer contraceptive coverage has remained highly controversial.
Houses of worship and their auxiliaries were originally given an exemption, and a later rule allowed some non-profit religiously affiliated employers an accommodation: They could opt out of directly providing the coverage, as long as they gave notice of their objection. Their insurer or the government would then pick up the cost of the coverage.
In a 2014 case involving the Hobby Lobby stores, the Supreme Court said a private, religiously oriented, and closely held company could get an exemption from the contraceptive mandate on religious grounds.
The decision today involved Trump administration rules that would allow publicly traded companies and large universities to claim a religious objection for refusing to provide the coverage. Even more broadly, employers and schools with any moral objection would also be exempt from the requirement.
The rules were intended to deliver on a campaign promise by President Donald Trump to roll back the coverage requirement. He said employers should not be “bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs.”
New Jersey and Pennsylvania sued, saying they would have to pick up must of the cost of contraceptive coverage, and a federal appeals court last year blocked enforcement of the rule nationwide. The Trump administration and the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who have consistently fought the contraceptive insurance requirement, defended the proposed rule.