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AAUW: Much is at stake in challenges to ACA contraceptive coverage

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POTSDAM - The Supreme Court has agreed to take up a troubling legal and unprecedented question this term – does a corporation have religious freedom? The Supreme Court decided on Nov. 26 to hear two challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage requirement.

This birth control benefit — the provision of the health reform law that allows women to access a range of preventative health services at no extra charge — has been in effect for over a year. But most U.S. women still aren’t aware of this aspect of the ACA, according to researchers who have been tracking public perception about the law’s new contraceptive coverage.

Other important public health provisions of the ACA include certain preventive health care services are covered without co-pay or cost-sharing. Besides contraception, immunizations, annual physicals and certain health screenings are also covered. The Supreme Court‘s decision to hear the challenge to this coverage is potentially dangerous to women and everyone else.

Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act law, houses of worship are exempt from the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees, and religiously-affiliated nonprofits (such as Catholic Charities USA) have the option to use a third-party insurer to provide this coverage. In this way, women are almost universally covered, while religious rights are respected.

Now, more than 40 for-profit companies are suing for the right to deny their employees access to contraceptive coverage using the RFRA, claiming a corporation is entitled to the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion.

The first case take by the Supreme Court is by the arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby and the second by cabinet maker Conestoga Wood Specialties. At issue is whether corporations have and can exercise religious rights and can impose those beliefs on its employees. These cases represent a major expansion of religious freedom rights – to corporations.

Virtually all American women use birth control at some point in their life; it is a health care issue for them, not a religious issue. It helps them pursue careers, complete their education, manage their health and plan their families. These companies are suing to take away a benefit millions of women have already accessed, and they’re doing it because they want to put their religious beliefs between women and their doctors.

Should the Supreme Court decide in favor of these corporations, the ruling could create a slippery slope for women and anyone seeking other kinds of medical care. Health care is one of the most personal decisions anyone can make. Your boss shouldn’t be able to deny you access or coverage for the care you need.

The decision could have ramifications far beyond health insurance coverage over contraception. In the name of corporate religious liberty, your boss could deny you coverage for vaccines, surgeries, blood transfusions or mental health care. Denial could include prescription medications or other health care it may decide it disapproves of, regardless of your medical professional’s opinion or best medical practices.

AAUW, who strongly supports this coverage requirement as it benefits millions of women, has signed on to several amicus briefs opposing these lawsuits and supporting women’s right to accessible contraceptive health care. For-profit companies should not have the right to restrict medical coverage.

People need to know what’s at stake here — bosses belong in the conference room, not the exam room. The impact this case could go far beyond its impact on women’s access to contraception.

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