AG Coakley Urges Supreme Court to Uphold Mandated Reproductive Health Coverage
BOSTON – Arguing that businesses cannot use religious objections to avoid contraceptive coverage mandated by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), Attorney General Martha Coakley led a coalition of states in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court today.
The brief, also led by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, was joined by 14 other states, including Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. It was submitted in the cases of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, which have been consolidated.
“Allowing companies to assert religious exemptions would eliminate essential coverage for many women and undercut efforts to ensure equality in the workplace,” AG Coakley said.
The cases present the question of whether for-profit corporations may be exempted, based on religious objection, from the requirement of the ACA and its implementing regulations, that employers provide health insurance coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives to their employees.
The multistate brief argues that businesses cannot exercise religion, and that a company’s identity is legally distinct from its shareholders and managers. It also argues that states, like the federal government, have a compelling interest in promoting public health and gender equity through the contraceptive mandate, which outweighs any burden on free-exercise rights claimed by for-profit corporations under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
According to the brief, “allowing individual shareholders to assert personal free-exercise rights as a basis for limiting public regulation of the corporation, despite the choice they previously made to hold and conduct their business in corporate form, would require overriding settled principles of state corporate law.”
A total of 28 states, including Massachusetts, have similar laws that require contraceptive coverage and other health benefits. Those laws, however, are limited in their effect because of the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which regulates most companies’ benefits plans. As a result, the ACA’s mandate is needed to ensure that most employers’ healthcare plans offer contraceptive coverage.
As the multistate brief explains, expanded access to contraceptive coverage provides important health benefits, including decreasing the risk of certain cancers in women, preventing unintended pregnancies, and reducing poor birth outcomes and premature births. Requiring coverage also helps to equalize the cost of healthcare for women of reproductive age, who spend 68 percent more out of pocket than men on healthcare.
The cases have been scheduled for oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 25.
For years, AG Coakley has worked tirelessly to promote the availability of affordable healthcare and to ensure access for women to reproductive care. In January 2012, AG Coakley filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the ACA . In that brief, the AG argued that Massachusetts’ own experience, from the healthcare law enacted in 2006, supports the federal government’s basis for passing national health care reform.
Earlier this month, AG Coakley defended the state’s buffer zone law, which protects patient access to reproductive healthcare facilities, in an oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The matter was handled by Jonathan Miller, Chief of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant Attorneys General Joshua Jacobson and Michelle Leung, also of the Civil Rights Division.