History may repeat itself in the LGBT community as the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments this week in Zubik v. Burwell, the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act over contraception care.
“A number of state legislatures do take their cues from what happens at the federal level in the Supreme Court,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, during a conference call March 21. “Immediately after Hobby Lobby, we saw repercussions in the LGBT community.”
Carey said the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, which ruled family-owned corporations could deny contraception coverage based on religious beliefs, prompted the Indiana legislature to take up debate for a “religious-freedom” bill that was seen as a way to deny services to LGBT people.
“In Indiana, we saw echoes of Hobby Lobby language,” Carey said. “LGBTQ people can’t afford this growing tend of religious exemptions.”
Carey was joined on the call by Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director for Catholics for Choice; Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union; the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; and Ann Marie Benitez, senior director of government relations with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.
The Zubik case represents a consolidation of seven court challenges filed against Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh is the lead petitioner.
Religiously affiliated schools, hospitals and nonprofits are challenging the Affordable Care Act requirement that they notify the federal government if they don’t want to provide coverage for birth control to their employees or students. In those cases, insurers must step in to provide free, prescribed birth control. These institutions say they are still complicit, through the notification process, in enabling people to receive birth control.
Amiri of the ACLU countered it’s not the opt-out form that triggers the coverage, but the Affordable Care Act.
“The Task Force is especially interested in this case because of the significant impact it could have on LGBT people and our families,” Carey said, noting cisgender women, trans men and intersex people all have an interest in affordable access to family planning methods.
Carey said a company might also use a religious exemption to avoid covering the cost of pre-exposure prophylaxis, called PrEP, which is a daily pill regimen shown to be effective in preventing HIV. Caitlin Conyngham, who works on PrEP programs at Philadelphia FIGHT, has described PrEP “like birth control for HIV.”
“This is a profoundly harmful interpretation of religious freedom,” said Hutchinson Ratcliffe of Catholics for Choice.
She said the appeals by the Catholic dioceses could impact hundreds of thousands of people, noting Catholic schools in the country employ 153,000 lay teachers and Catholic hospitals employ 750,000 people.
“Catholic nonprofits and hospitals are big businesses,” she said.
More broadly, Hutchinson Ratcliffe said about 70 percent of American Catholics have used some form of birth control and support others in making their own contraception choices.
A decision is expected in the Zubik case in June.