Supreme Court to take up Trump appeal in ObamaCare birth control case

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear the Trump administration's appeal in a legal fight over religious exemptions for ObamaCare's requirement that employer-based health insurance plans cover birth control.

The administration is seeking to expand exemptions for religious objectors to the Affordable Care Act’s so-called contraceptive mandate.

It will mark the third time the Supreme Court weighs in on the mandate, a controversial provision of ObamaCare that has been fiercely opposed by conservatives and religious groups for years. 

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The Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a nationwide injunction issued by a lower court blocking the rule from taking effect in a case brought by attorneys general in New Jersey and New York.

The Department of Justice was joined in its appeal by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns that objects to the mandate. 

“We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the Justices will reinforce their previous decision and allow us to focus on our lifelong work of serving the elderly poor once and for all,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire in a statement. 

ObamaCare requires insurance plans to cover preventive care, including contraception, with no out-of-pocket costs. 

But the requirement has sparked years of legal challenges from groups and employers arguing it violated their religious beliefs.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in a lawsuit brought by Hobby Lobby that closely held companies with religious objections didn’t have to comply with the mandate. 

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In 2016, the Supreme Court sent back to lower courts a lawsuit brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor, ordering the administration to find a compromise with the Catholic order. 

The Trump administration issued its new rules in 2017 in part to resolve the issue with the sisters, who would have been exempt from providing contraception to their employees under the proposed changes. 

The mandate already provided exemptions for some religiously affiliated organizations. 

But the changes would allow most businesses to claim a religious exemption to the mandate, including nonprofits, for-profit companies, private colleges and universities and other non-government employers. 

Civil rights groups argue the rules would essentially let employers discriminate against employees who use birth control. 

“Allowing employers and universities to use their religious beliefs to block employees’ and students’  birth control coverage isn’t religious liberty — it's discrimination,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director at the America Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project. 

A ruling from the Supreme Court could come as soon as this summer just months before the 2020 presidential election. Democrats hope to create a contrast with Trump on the issue of health care, pointing to his rollback of ObamaCare’s contraception mandate and his efforts to repeal the 2010 health care law. 

Updated at 5:30 p.m.