Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on the Contraception Mandate

Milken Institute School of Public Health Expert Available for Comment

Released: 18-Mar-2014 2:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: George Washington University
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Newswise — WASHINGTON, DC (March 18, 2014)—On March 25, the Supreme Court will hear the arguments surrounding lawsuits filed by two for-profit companies who argue that they should be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate on contraceptive services. A friend of the court brief filed recently argues against that point of view, saying that a religious exemption for such companies would deny affordable birth control to millions of American women and their families.

“Companies should not be able, for reasons related to the religious beliefs of their owners, to block access to guaranteed health insurance coverage that pays for the most effective forms of treatment,” says Sara Rosenbaum, JD, the Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University.

Rosenbaum, along with experts at the Guttmacher Institute, filed an amicus brief supporting the Obama Administration’s side in this case. A friend of the court brief offers additional legal arguments in support of one side or the other. In this case, Rosenbaum and her colleagues are backing the contraceptive mandate – with no exception made for religious beliefs.

The Affordable Care Act guarantees coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptive choices for virtually all women who are insured, whether through individual plans or through the workplace. The owners of Hobby Lobby, nationwide arts and craft chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a cabinetmaker, sued the federal government, arguing that because of their owners’ beliefs, the companies should be able to deny women the coverage to which they are entitled under law.

In the amicus brief Rosenbaum and her Guttmacher colleagues argue that the government’s interest in ensuring access to the contraceptive guarantee is a compelling one, that the guarantee is the least restrictive means of achieving coverage, and that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not permit people to deprive others of their rights in the name of religion. To recognize an exemption based on the religious beliefs of company owners would “substantially burden” the ability of women and their families to make childbearing decisions based on their values and religious beliefs. In addition, the brief argues that without reliable access to birth control, women will be unable to meet their own health needs and plan for their future. The health advances achieved through contraception, and the importance of access to affordable and effective contraception combine to make the government’s interest in assuring access a compelling one, the brief says.

The brief cites extensive data from the Guttmacher Institute and other leading authorities to demonstrate that methods of contraception differ dramatically in effectiveness and that cost is a substantial barrier to women seeking to prevent unintended pregnancy. By eliminating cost barriers to the full range of women's contraceptive methods, the federal contraceptive coverage guarantee allows women to choose the method most appropriate for their circumstances and health needs. Improved access to effective contraception reduces women’s risk of unintended pregnancy, which in turn reduces the need for abortion and promotes women’s educational, economic and social advancement, the brief argues.

Find out more about the case and read the full brief here.

Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University:

Established in July 1997 as the School of Public Health and Health Services, the Milken Institute School of Public Health is the only school of public health in the nation’s capital. Today, more than 1,100 students from nearly every U.S. state and more than 40 nations pursue undergraduate, graduate and doctoral-level degrees in public health. The school also offers an online Master of Public Health, MPH@GW, which allows students to pursue their degree from anywhere in the world.


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