Trump Gets High Court Review on Contraceptive Coverage Opt-Out

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(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Trump administration’s bid to give employers and universities the broad right to claim a religious or moral exemption from the Obamacare requirement that they offer free birth control through their health-care plans.

Agreeing to re-enter a fractious debate over contraceptive coverage, the justices said they will decide whether a federal appeals court was right to put President Donald Trump’s policy on hold. The high court will likely hear arguments in April and rule by late June.

The Trump opt-out expanded a narrower religious exemption offered by President Barack Obama’s administration as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The Supreme Court considered the Obama contraceptive policy in 2016, when religious groups said it violated their rights. With the court shorthanded at the time, the eight justices ducked the core issues and told the litigants to try to work out their differences.

The latest case is as much about administrative agency power as religious rights. The Philadelphia-based appeals court said the administration lacked authority under two federal statutes to issue the exemption. The panel also said the rules were tainted because the government didn’t give the public a chance to comment on an earlier, interim exemption.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey are challenging the Trump policy and urged the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal.

Obama had offered objecting employers two options: They could shift responsibility onto their insurer by providing it with a specified form, or they could notify the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of their objection and provide contact information for their insurer.

But a number of religious groups and individuals contended they shouldn’t have to play even that limited role, with some saying they consider certain forms of contraception to be the same as abortion.

The Trump administration issued its rule in November 2018. The new policy expands the types of employers who can claim religious exemptions to include publicly traded companies for the first time, and also applies it to universities in their student health plans. It also lets some employers claim a moral exemption.

The court also will hear a similar appeal from Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns arguing in favor of the broad religious exemption.

The cases are Trump v. Pennsylvania, 19-454, and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, 19-431.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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