Seeds: 2010 saw the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare). Within this Act, a birth control mandate required all healthcare providers, or employers who provide health insurance to cover the cost of contraceptives in their insurance plans. In 2014, this mandate was disputed in the Supreme Court case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In this case, Hobby Lobby, a nationwide chain of craft stores owned by a family with strong religious ties, argued that their religious freedoms were being infringed upon by the birth control mandate because it forced them to provide birth control to their female employees. In the case’s conclusion, the Supreme Court ruled that all for-profit companies did not have to abide by the contraceptive mandate on the grounds of religious objection.
Core: Today, the Supreme Court will once again take on the subject of contraceptives in Zubik v. Burwell. In this case, religiously affiliated nonprofit groups are vying for an extension of the decision made in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that allowed for-profit businesses to disregard the contraceptive mandate. As it stands currently, these groups are able to opt out of directly supplying employees with birth control. However, they are still required to provide necessary information to their employees about where to find contraceptives through a third party. These groups argue that providing this information has made them accessories to behavior that goes against their religious beliefs.
Skin: As expected, this case has caused the resurfacing of debates about the separation of church and state and what equality for women looks like in the eyes of the law. Some argue that a woman denied birth control is a woman who cannot achieve true equality, while others believe legislation like the contraceptive mandate is an affront to the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
Leaves: The biggest difference between this case and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is the number of justices available to vote. Since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, (one of the conservative justices who sided with Hobby Lobby) the court will only have eight justices instead of nine, leaving the high possibility of 4-4 tie in the vote. If a tie does occur, the court’s decision will mean nothing, and the enforced ruling will be up to the state courts, making it so that the laws will differ on a state by state basis.
Food For Thought: Do you think religious groups should be able to exempt themselves from some federal laws? Is contraception truly necessary for women to achieve equality? Should there be a better way to deal with voting ties in the Supreme Court?