Lambda Legal Endorses the "Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act"

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July 9, 2014

Contraception is a core preventive health service for women, including bisexual women and lesbians, for treating endometriosis, related pelvic pain and other health problems as well as for preventing pregnancy. Coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptives was guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act. Yet this June the Supreme Court held in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Burwell, that some corporations can get out of complying with the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement if they have religious beliefs against birth control. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated in her dissent:

[In this] decision of startling breadth . . . .the exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga . . . would deny legions of women who do not hold their employer’s beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure.”

What the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Decision Means for LGBT People

The Court’s decision may embolden employers to deny other employee protections – such as health coverage for vaccines or HIV treatment. Such actions would be contrary to the explicit limitations in Hobby Lobby and other legal guarantees. But, given the decision’s inconsistencies and widespread public confusion about the law, these concerns are serious.

The "Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act" would restore the contraceptive coverage requirement guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act and also protect coverage of other health services against employers who want to impose their beliefs on their employees by denying benefits.

The Bill

Ensures that employers cannot interfere in their employees’ decisions about contraception and other health services by:

  • Prohibiting employers from refusing to cover any health coverage – including contraceptive coverage -- guaranteed to their employees and dependents under federal law.
  • Stating that all federal laws, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, do not permit employers to refuse to comply with the ACA requirement.
  • Maintaining the exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement for houses of worship and the accommodation for religious nonprofits.

The Impact of the Bill

This bill will restore the original legal guarantee that women have access to contraceptive coverage through their employment-based insurance plans and will protect coverage of other health services from employer interference as well.

Stop Employers From Being Able to Single Out Women’s Health for Discriminatory Treatment

The Supreme Court’s decision allows bosses to interfere with their employees’ decision to use birth control by singling out this critical preventive health benefit for women. There is no similar interference with men’s health needs and allowing this blocking of coverage is sex discrimination. Ninety-nine percent of women use birth control at some point in their lifetimes, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared it one of the Ten Great Public Health Achievements of the 20th Century. In fact, the contraceptive coverage requirement has already made a tremendous difference in women’s lives – 24 million more prescriptions for oral contraceptives were filled with no co-pay in 2013 than in 2012 and women have saved $483 million in out-of-pocket costs for oral contraceptives. The Court’s decision will allow employers that otherwise cover preventive health services to deny their employees contraceptive coverage – to treat a critical women’s health service differently than other comparable health services. That is unfair and wrong. Preventive health insurance is a critical element of worker compensation for women just as much as for men. Legislation is needed to make clear that employers may not discriminate against their women employees in this way.

Don't Allow Employers to Impose Their Religious Beliefs on Their Employees

Contrary to longstanding Supreme Court law, this decision allows for-profit businesses like Hobby Lobby to impose their religious beliefs on their employees. The Court decision ignores the fact that the employees’ beliefs about religion are just as important and deserving of protection as the employers’ beliefs. We live in a diverse society and many employees do not share their employers' religious beliefs. Accepting a job does not mean checking rights to religious liberty and personal autonomy at the office door. The 13,000 Hobby Lobby employees are working at an arts and crafts store, not a church or synagogue.

Protect Employees From Employer Attempts To Refuse to Provide Other Types of Health Care Coverage

One of the dangers of the Supreme Court’s decision is that it may embolden employers to try to refuse to cover other critical health services such as vaccines, blood transfusions and HIV treatment. As Justice Ginsburg stated in her dissent, “[t]he Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.” Efforts to eliminate other insurance coverage should not succeed. But, workers should not have to fight their bosses to retain the basic coverage Congress has guaranteed for them as matter of workplace fairness and public health.