Can Your Boss Claim Their Religion Means You Can’t Get Birth Control Coverage?
I’ve had Donna Summer’s 1983 hit playing in a loop in my head: “She works hard for the money, so you better treat her right.” Okay, maybe this dates me a bit, but you get the point. We all work hard. So why should any of us be denied health insurance coverage guaranteed by law because of our employers’ religious beliefs?
That’s the question the Supreme Court considered in Zubik v. Burwell when it heard argument this week in the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health insurance plans cover contraception without a co-pay. The employers that have challenged the requirement have a religious objection to providing contraception coverage for their employees. But here’s the deal: The employers before the court don’t actually have to provide the coverage if they fill out a one-page form opting out. If the employer opts out, the insurance company provides the contraception coverage to the employees in a separate plan, at no cost to the employer.
But the employers object even to filling out the opt-out form, and they object to what happens when they opt out — that their insurer then provides the coverage to their employees. What would happen if the Supreme Court accepts their argument? Tens of thousands of employees would lose their contraception coverage.
The contraception requirement was designed to reduce the disparities in health care costs between men and women — women have historically paid more for health care than men. Also, in establishing the contraception requirement, the government recognized the basic principle that contraception is crucial for women’s equal participation in society. Being able to decide whether and when to have children has a direct effect on women’s ability to make their own paths in terms of their schooling, their careers, and their families.
The employers before the court should not be allowed to use their religious beliefs to block their female employees’ contraception coverage any more than they should be allowed to use their religious beliefs to pay them less than men. Religious liberty is a fundamental value in our country, but religion cannot be used to discriminate against others.