Yesterday, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case of Hobby Lobby's challenge to the Affordable Care Act's birth control benefit. The case was heard by all the active judges on the 10th Circuit, as opposed to a typical panel of three. At the heart of this case is whether Hobby Lobby, a for-profit company, can be required to cover contraception for its over 13,000 employees. Hobby Lobby's owners contend that some forms of contraception, including the "morning-after-pill," are in violation of their religious beliefs, because they may cause abortions. This is medically inaccurate.
The main focus for the judges was whether Hobby Lobby, as a for-profit corporation, has a constitutionally protected right to religious freedom. Chief Judge Briscoe asked the lawyer for Hobby Lobby, "Do you have any authority that a for-profit corporation can exercise religion? How does that work?" Perhaps the Chief Judge was skeptical after the District Court held that "[g]eneral business corporations do not, separate and apart from the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or employees, exercise religion. They do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors. Religious exercise is, by its nature, one of those 'purely personal' matters…which is not the province of a general business corporation."
Nonetheless, relying on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), Hobby Lobby's attorney sought to establish that the birth control benefit would impose a substantial burden on the corporation and its owners. Read more »
This week, the CDC announced a historic drop in the rate of teen births. This is great news, and on Time's website, Amanda Sifferlin discusses what is behind the change. She attributes it to "a mix of greater access to birth control and better sex education."
Sifferlin is right that better sex education has become available, and this is because of an important shift in policy by the Obama Administration. One of the new Administration's first acts was to stop funding the ineffective and often dangerously inaccurate "abstinence until marriage" programs that had been in place during the Bush years. Instead, the new administration focused on funding medically accurate and more comprehensive sex education. In a report SIECUS issued this week, they state that the impact of this policy shift can be seen "on the ground" and that real progress is being made.
Thus, it is no coincidence that the CDC found a drop in teen pregnancy in the years 2007 - 2011. That time period roughly coincides with President Obama's first term and the new emphasis on comprehensive sex education. Read more »
Today, Hobby Lobby will try to explain to all the judges on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals why employees of a craft store chain should be denied full insurance coverage of birth control at their bosses' discretion. Hobby Lobby is the largest of the 31 for-profit companies attempting to challenge the federal birth control benefit, with over 13,000 employees who will be affected by what the judges decide.
"[T]he particular burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [the corporate] plan, subsidize someone else's participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiff[s'] religion."
The 10th Circuit said "We agree" when it denied Hobby Lobby's request to temporarily get out of providing the benefit. Read more »
Potter has spent weeks talking up in the media his opposition to the contraceptive coverage benefit. He’s stated that he opposes the contraceptive coverage benefit because he questions “what gives [the federal government] the right to tell [him] that [he has] to [cover birth control].” But here’s the thing: he’s admitted he would not have cared if it was “Jack Daniels or birth control”—it’sthe principle. Potter’s admitted that the root issue—“the beginning and ending of the story”—is the government trying to tell him what to do. As he said, “[he’s] got more interest in good quality long underwear than [he has] in birth control pills.”
Today, during oral arguments for the preliminary injunction, his tune may change. Contrary to his many statements, his lawyers will try to convince a Michigan district court that Mr. Potter’s religious beliefs motivate his attempt to deny his employees (and their families) the comprehensive insurance they are entitled to. That’s because the claims Potter is making require a violation of religious exercise. But proving religious beliefs are at issue won’t be an easy task. When asked what particular religious belief led him to oppose the benefit, Potter said “Well, there isn’t any one particular religious belief… I find it hard to get my head around the question.” Read more »
The law directly conflicted with the federal health care law’s contraceptive coverage requirement, which requires all new health insurance plans to cover contraceptives with no co-pay. In his announcement, the Attorney General aptly stated, “the attempt to deny contraceptive coverage to women in Missouri is just plain foolishness” and “cannot be supported by case law or sound policy.” Read more »
A study published in the journal Women’s Health Issues last week highlighted a problem many women have confronted over the years when getting their birth control: even when you have insurance, the costs for contraception can be unaffordable. The study showed that, in 2010, on average women with private insurance paid $10 for a one-month supply of generic pills, $112 for an IUD, and $116 for an implant. The study also found that costs varied depending on your insurer, with some women having to pay more than $17 a month for generic pills, $305 for an IUD, or $308 for an implant. On top of these high costs, the study found that between 2007 and 2010, insurance companies shifted to women costs for long-acting contraceptives, like IUDs and implants. In 2007, a woman paid 13.8% of the cost of an IUD, whereas in 2010 she paid 17.5%.
If these price tags have you confused, there is hope. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare,” contains a provision that requires health insurers to provide coverage of the full-range of FDA-approved contraceptives without cost sharing. Read more »
Earlier this month, we told you about a bill introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives that would let bosses use their religion to discriminate against female employees and make decisions about their reproductive health care. Unfortunately, the House passed H.B. 108 last week, and it is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate today at 11:30 a.m. Read more »
The CDC published new data today showing that the teen birth rate in the U.S. dropped to a historic low in 2011. The CDC attributes this in part to teens using contraception more regularly and more effectively. This is great news for a number of obvious reasons. But what it makes me really excited about is how the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage provision could help reduce these rates even more in the coming years.
Yes, I recognize how wonky my excitement is, but think about it: these new statistics are from a period of time before the ACA’s contraceptive coverage requirement went into effect. Imagine what might be coming down the road for us as more and more women have access to contraceptive coverage without worrying that they won’t be able to afford the co-pay at the pharmacy. Read more »
Alabama politicians will be voting on whether to allow your boss to make your reproductive health care decisions. H.B. 108 was introduced just last week and voted out of committee yesterday without a public hearing. It’s moving to the House floor for a vote as early as today. Alabama politicians want to allow bosses to use their religion to discriminate against the 637,666 Alabama women who get health insurance through their job or their spouse’s job.
Lately, it seems that Texas lawmakers can’t pass up any opportunity to deny women health care. In 2011, they cut funding for birth control services by two-thirds, forcing 53 clinics that provided those services to close. Then, they turned down $30 million in federal money that would have provided contraception and cancer screening to low income women, rather than allow Planned Parenthood to participate in the program. And now, a representative in the Texas House has proposed a bill that would give a tax break to companies that refuse to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. Read more »