On, Wednesday July 8, 2020, the United States Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision upheld expanded Religious Exemptions for employer provided contraception under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The expanded rules broadened the scope under which employers may claim the exemption under the ACA. The ruling was the result of a long legal battle with multiple court cases, where the legality of the Government’s ability to expand upon existing exemptions under the ACA, was challenged.
In 2017, the Trump Administration quietly issued two rules that were finalized in 2018. The first provided a religious exemption and the second a moral exemption. If an employer claimed either of the two, it would exempt them from the contraception mandate. The legal battles continued, and the state of Pennsylvania and New Jersey sued, stating that the Government violated the Administrative Procedure Act by quietly issuing the new exemptions without public comment. Those opposed to the mandate also cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which prohibits any agency, department or official of the United States from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religious freedom. The lower and upper courts were not able to come to a decision on whether the ACA exemptions were a violation of the RFRA, thus leaving the decision to the Supreme Court.
In today’s decision, the Supreme Court held that since the ACA allowed for the exemptions, the Trump Administration also had the right to change the exemptions. It also stated that since there was a clear path created by the ACA for exemptions, the issues brought up concerning the RFRA were a moot point and thus did not issue a ruling on the RFRA.