Supreme Court backs Trump plan for limiting contraceptive coverage

As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, Trump's policy will likely end birth-control coverage for up to 126,000 women in the United States.
Image: A demonstrator holds up a sign outside the Supreme Court
A demonstrator holds up a sign outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 30, 2014.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP file
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By Steve Benen

When the Affordable Care Act was written over a decade ago, the reform law's approach to birth control was relatively straightforward -- and at least at first blush, noncontroversial. As regular readers know, under “Obamacare,” contraception is supposed to be covered as standard preventive care that insurers are required to provide.

Houses of worship were always exempt, and thanks to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling, that exemption is quite broad.

But for Donald Trump -- or at least those in the administration who care about such things -- this wasn't nearly good enough. The Republican White House took steps to expand the policy to exempt even more anti-contraception employers from following the law.

Today, the Supreme Court gave the administration the green light to do exactly that.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday cleared the way for the Trump administration to give the nation's employers more leeway in refusing to provide free birth control for their workers under the Affordable Care Act. The ruling is a victory for the administration's plan to greatly expand the kinds of employers who can cite religious or moral objections in declining to include contraceptives in their health care plans.

The full, 7-2 ruling in Little Sisters v. Pennsylvania is online here. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority, while Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Right about now, some of you are probably wondering why two of the four center-left justices -- in this case, Elana Kagan and Stephen Breyer -- would go along with an anti-contraception ruling. The answer is, they probably didn't fully see this as a contraception case.

Rather, the ruling was largely about the scope of executive-branch regulations. As the ruling put it, the Department of Health and Human Services "has virtually unbridled discretion to decide what counts as preventive care and screenings," and that same authority "leaves its discretion equally unchecked in other areas, including the ability to identify and create exemptions from its own guidelines."

That said, the practical effects are important: by federal estimates, as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, Trump's policy will likely end birth-control coverage for up to 126,000 women in the United States.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in statement, “It is unconscionable that, in the middle of the worst global pandemic in modern history, the administration is focusing on denying basic health care to women that is essential for their health and financial security, instead of protecting lives and livelihoods.”