SCOTUS Opinion: Court Upholds Birth Control Exclusion for Religious Organizations Under ACA

While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act required employers to provide coverage for contraceptives, the Government issued rules exempting religious employers from that mandate. After subsequent rulings by the Supreme Court on claims that the rules violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Government issued new rules expanding the exemption to include employers that object “based on sincerely held religious beliefs” or have sincerely held moral objections to providing contraception coverage. In Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, certain states challenged the new rules, arguing they were not properly promulgated under the Administrative Procedure Act, and that the Government agencies in question lacked authority to issue the rules. The district court issued a nationwide injunction staying implementation of the rules, and the Third Circuit affirmed.

The Court, in a 7-2 decision by Justice Thomas, reversed. First, the majority held that the agencies had authority to issue the rules as part of the “comprehensive guidelines” the ACA empowered the agencies to create. Next, the majority held that the rules were properly issued because comment was sought during their creation, and rejected the notion that agencies were required to prove they acted with an open mind during that process. The district court’s injunction was therefore dissolved. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Gorsuch, concurred in full, but also argued that the Court should have held that the rules were not arbitrary and capricious under the APA because RFRA required they be enacted, instead of remanding for yet more litigation. Justice Kagan, joined by Justice Breyer, concurred in the judgment, agreeing that the agencies had authority to enact the rules under Chevron deference, but questioning whether the rules might violate the APA by being arbitrary and capricious. Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor, dissented, arguing that neither the Free Exercise Clause nor RFRA should have been read to enable about 100,000 women to lose access to free contraceptive services.

A link to the opinion is here: