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In a distressing 7-2 decision penned by Justice Thomas and joined by all except Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg, the Supreme Court last month ruled in favor of allowing private employers to claim moral and/or religious objections to deny employee access to contraceptive care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ruling follows combined cases from Pennsylvania and New Jersey challenging the expansion of the religious and moral exemptions to include private employers and not just religious entities or places of worship. The federal government has exempted several types of institutions or business entities from not having to provide no-cost contraceptive care to students or employees because of personal religious beliefs. The current administration’s weaponizing of religion to further limit reproductive care continues to strip women of their fundamental rights, agency, autonomy, and places their health in peril. 

Latino Justice joined with The National Women’s Law Center, The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, SisterLove, Inc. and 50 additional civil rights and community service organizations to submit an amicus “friend of the court” brief opposing the administration’s expanded contraceptive coverage exemption which would greatly impact low-wage, low-income women of color. Justice Ginsburg, in her dissent, cited our amicus brief three separate times: first to show that people use contraception for reasons unrelated to preventing pregnancy (p.5); second to show that people who lose coverage will be forced away from trusted providers who know their medical histories (p.17); and third for the argument that religious exemptions reintroduce “the very health inequities and barriers to care that Congress intended to eliminate when it enacted the women’s preventive services provision of the ACA.” (p.17). 

NWLC approximates that more than 61 million women receive birth control coverage through the ACA and that as many as 126,000 people will lose contraceptive coverage from their employers based on this decision. As Justice Ginsberg highlights in her dissent, the Little Sisters decision will disproportionately affect low-income women of color, LGBTQ people, and others who may forgo necessary reproductive health care or use less effective methods. Women-identifying of color already experience worse outcomes in health care and, because of systemic racism and its creation of socioeconomic barriers, they also represent the highest number of maternal mortality deaths in the country. Religious beliefs should not be permitted to perpetuate inequity which the Supreme Court has condoned. As Justice Ginsburg’s dissent notes, “[i]n accommodating claims of religious freedom, this court has taken a balanced approach, one that does not allow the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs. Today, for the first time, the court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree.”

Drafted by LatinoJustice Summer Legal Intern Stephanie Guzmán, Columbia Law School Class of 2022.