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Defending the Contraceptive Rule

Richard Muniz,
Reproductive Rights Fellow,
ACLU of Illinois
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March 8, 2013

Today, the ACLU and the ACLU of Illinois filed a friend-of-the-court brief in two additional appeals challenging the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) contraceptive coverage rule. Our brief urges the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reject requests by secular, for-profit companies and their owners to block enforcement of the rule. The district court in both cases refused to grant the companies’ requests, and they seek to overturn those decisions.

The contraceptive rule, which requires health plans to include coverage for contraceptive care without a co-pay or deductible, ensures that millions of women will have access to affordable birth control, and represents one of the greatest advancements for women’s health in decades. Ignoring this fact and the fact that the contraceptive rule is constitutional, the companies and their owners argue that providing health insurance coverage for contraception to their collective 1,168 employees imposes a “substantial burden” on their religious exercise. We strongly disagree.

An independent decision by an employee to use her health plan (which is a benefit earned during employment — just like salary) to obtain health care, including contraception, that her employer personally objects to does not substantially burden the employer’s religious exercise. As we noted in the brief, the contraceptive rule does not compel or coerce employers to use or purchase contraception themselves. The rule simply requires employers to provide their employees with a comprehensive health plan.

If the companies and their owners prevailed, it would allow employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees, which the courts have repeatedly held is improper. For example, the courts have said that an employer cannot pay men and women differently based on the owner’s religious belief that men should be paid more because the Bible considers them head of the household. The Seventh Circuit should follow these cases and refuse to allow employers to deny equal rights and benefits to their employees — who themselves have free exercise rights under the Constitution.

Also joining the ACLU on the brief are the Anti-Defamation League; Catholics for Choice; Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America; the Interfaith Alliance Foundation; the National Coalition of American Nuns; the National Council of Jewish Women; Protestants for the Common Good; the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; the Religious Institute; the Unitarian Universalist Association; and the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation.

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