The Obama Administration today issued the latest in a series of regulations designed to ensure that Americans have access to affordable birth control, but the move isn’t likely to end litigation over the matter, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The new regulations accommodate religious objections advanced by certain closely held for-profit corporations; they also finalize previous accommodations made available to religious non-profit entities, such as religiously affiliated colleges and universities. The new rules go beyond what is required by court decisions, but that’s unlikely to placate bosses who are determined to curtail women’s access to birth control.
“I blame this mess on the Supreme Court,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Although these accommodations preserve women’s access to contraception, the definition of religious freedom adopted by the high court in the Hobby Lobby case has spawned new legal challenges that put American women at risk.”
The Hobby Lobby ruling, issued in 2014, permits certain for-profit businesses to refuse to include contraceptives in employee health-care plans if employers disagree with it on religious grounds. The case concerned a chain of craft stores whose fundamentalist owners insist, incorrectly, that certain types of birth control cause abortion.
“The administration had to respond to this ruling, and today’s regulations are a good-faith effort to protect women,” Lynn said. “Although I hope I’m proven wrong, I fear that the Religious Right and its allies, the Catholic bishops, won’t stop until they have denied access to safe and affordable birth control to as many women as possible.”
Lynn pointed out that the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby was based on a faulty interpretation of a 1993 federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). In light of the manner in which the high court misconstrued that law, Lynn said it may be time to fix it and make clear that RFRA was never intended to allow harms to third parties.
“An employee’s decision to obtain and use birth control is a purely private matter,” Lynn said. “It in no way diminishes or even affects the religious freedom of her boss.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.