The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has the ability to create a religious and moral exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate.
The opinion centers on two rules that the Department of Health and Human Services has finalized over the healthcare law’s mandate that employers must cover birth control.
In 2018, HHS finalized a rule that creates a “moral” exemption to the mandate that enables employers who have a moral objection to birth control to opt-out.
Another rule expands on an existing religious exemption in the law to any employer. The previous exemption only applied to churches.
The state of Pennsylvania sued the federal government and argued that neither rule followed the Administrative Procedures Act, which outlines how an agency must issue and finalize regulations. The rules didn’t’ follow the APA’s procedures for issuing a notice for public comments.
HHS did not have the legal authority under the ACA or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to issue either rule, the lawsuit charged.
A lower court issued an injunction against both rules that prevented the regulations from taking effect.
The Supreme Court found that HHS did have the authority to issue the rules because the ACA gives it sweeping authority to define preventive care that health plans must cover.
“That same grant of authority empowers it to identify and create exemptions from its own guidelines,” the ruling wrote.
The lawsuit also argued that the exemptions thwart Congress’ intent for the law’s mandate, which was to make it easier for women to gain access to birth control.
But the court instead found that the text itself gives the administration the authority to implement the rules.
“Even if such concerns are legitimate, they are more properly directed at the regulatory mechanism that Congress put in place,” the ruling said.
The only dissenting justices were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.
This story is developing and will be updated.