Supreme Court set to hear arguments on birth control access amid COVID-19 pandemic

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court is hearing a dispute Wednesday over Trump administration rules that would allow more employers who cite a religious or moral objection to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women.

The dispute stems from the Obama health care law, under which most employers must cover birth control as a preventive service, at no charge to women in their health insurance plans. Because of the coronavirus pandemic the high court has been hearing arguments by phone, with audio of arguments available live to the public for the first time.

For Wednesday's argument, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg plans to participate from a Maryland hospital.

RELATED: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hospitalized with infection, Supreme Court says

The court said Tuesday evening that Ginsburg was hospitalized with an infection caused by a gallstone and expects to be in the hospital for a day or two.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration exempted houses of worship, such as churches, synagogues and mosques, from the requirement. And it created a method by which religiously affiliated organizations including hospitals, universities and charities could opt out of paying for contraception but women on their health plans would still get no-cost birth control.

Some groups complained, however, that the opt-out process continued to violate their religious beliefs.

Trump administration officials in 2017 announced a rule change that allows many companies and organizations with religious or moral objections to opt out of covering birth control without providing an alternate avenue for coverage.

The rules were finalized in 2018.

The government has estimated that the change would impact approximately 70,500 women who would lose contraception coverage in one year as a result.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania challenged the rules in court, and a judge blocked them from going into effect.

The judge found the administration did not follow proper procedures for issuing the rules.

An appeals court agreed, and the Trump administration appealed to the Supreme Court to step in as did the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns that had been instrumental in challenging the Obama administration rules.

Even though the Trump rules remain blocked, a ruling by a federal judge in Texas in June already allows most people who object to covering contraception to avoid doing so.

Wednesday's second argument is a free speech case involving a 1991 law aimed at protecting consumers from unwanted telemarketing calls.

Political organizations that want to use automated calling to do things like make calls to encourage people to vote challenged the law as a violation of the First Amendment.

On Monday the court heard a case about's ability to trademark its name, and on Tuesday the case was about federal money to fight AIDS around the world.