To ring in the New Year, Justice Sotomayor granted a temporary injunction that reminded the nation that religious objections to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are still at the forefront of the battle to determine parts of the Act’s constitutionality. In late January, the Supreme Court extended Justice Sotomayor’s injunction to a group of Catholic nuns in Colorado, allowing them to abstain from the new health care provisions regarding contraceptive coverage until the resolution of an appeal pending in the Tenth Circuit. In this case, no one is forcing the nuns to provide contraceptive insurance to their employees. The nun’s association, Little Sisters for the Poor Home of the Aged, could avail itself to a religious exemption provided by the ACA, which would transfer the responsibility to pay for contraceptives to a third party insurer. Little Sisters sued over the requirement, saying that using the exemption would authorize or facilitate the use of contraceptives, in violation of their right to religious freedom.
The ACA is riddled with exemptions to protect religious freedoms. Among them is the very exemption that Little Sisters is suing to remove, which allows the organization to protect their religious interests by refusing to pay for, arrange for, refer, or otherwise enable contraceptive coverage. By claiming that religious rights should also dictate their employee’s ability to receive coverage from a non-affiliated source goes beyond the need for religious protection and begins to encroach on individual rights. While religious freedom should be constitutionally protected, it should not be allowed to reign over the rights of others, nor can it be permitted to violate compelling government policies. Upon the passing of the ACA, preventative contraceptive care for women was included as a necessary element to improve the social, physical, and economic welfare of women. Contraceptive care not only protects a woman’s right to be healthy, but also protects her right to choose what is best for her and her body. Studies show it allows women to achieve professional and economic success, and ultimately gives women control over their futures.
It is acknowledged that religious freedom is valued in the ACA. The ACA does not require that Little Sisters provide coverage, and it does not impose any penalties if they claim a religious exemption to offending provisions. Requiring that religious entities submit their objections to a third party insurer does authorize insurers to provide contraceptive coverage – and the third party can chose not to comply. It simply allows women to maintain their right to preventative coverage, to plan their futures, and to choose what is best for them and their families. Simply being an employee of a religious organization does not require that you must succumb to their religious mandate, especially when the important government interest of protecting women’s rights is at stake.