The Pill Turns 60 as Birth Control Is Back in the Supreme Court

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Source: BruceBlaus, “Birth Control Pills,” commons.wikimedia.com, Feb. 22, 2016

On May 9, 1960, the FDA approved the first birth control pill, Enovid, for contraceptive use. Sixty years later, the Pill is used by about 13% of American women, making it the second most popular form of birth control in the United States.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday, May 6, 2020 about the right of businesses to opt out of the Obamacare mandate that requires employer health care plans to guarantee free birth control. Due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the Court heard arguments over the phone.

While the original birth control mandate offered exemptions for religious employers (such as churches and mosques) and religious non-profit organizations with “sincerely held” religious beliefs, Obamacare offered a workaround so female employees could still access birth control via their health insurance. The Supreme Court expanded the exemptions with the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores ruling to for-profit companies with religious beliefs.

In 2017, the Trump administration issued new rules to broaden the number of employers who are exempt from the birth control mandate from only employers with religious objections to include employers with moral objections as well. Those new rules were blocked by lower courts when Pennsylvania and New Jersey sued, citing an increased cost to the states to cover birth control.

Now the Trump administration’s Justice Department and the Catholic nonprofit Little Sisters of the Poor have taken the arguments to the Supreme Court in two connected cases: Donald Trump v. Pennsylvania, and The Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania.

A ruling is expected over the summer of 2020. If the Justices rule in favor of the Trump administration, between 70,000 and 126,000 women could lose access to free birth control.

President Trump campaigned in 2016 on eliminating Obamacare and his views have remained consistent. He tweeted on Apr. 1, 2019, “Everybody agrees that ObamaCare doesn’t work. Premiums & deductibles are far too high – Really bad HealthCare! Even the Dems want to replace it, but with Medicare for all, which would cause 180 million Americans to lose their beloved private health insurance.”

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democrat nominee in the 2020 presidential election, says that he would protect and expand Obamacare: “As President, I will reverse President Trump’s rollbacks of the Affordable Care Act, including his efforts to deny women access to health care, and work to restore the Obama-Biden policy that was in place before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.”

Read what the presidential candidates think about healthcare issues on ProCon.org’s 2020 Election site.

Discussion Questions – Things to Think About
1. Should the federal government require religious employers to provide birth control? Explain your answer.

2. Should employers who provide health insurance benefits be allowed to opt out of covering any medicines or treatments for religious or moral reasons? Why or why not?

3. Should birth control pills be available over-the-counter (without a prescription)? Explain your answer

Sources:

AP, “Supreme Court Hears Case on ‘Obamacare’ Birth Control Coverage Changes,” cbsnews.com, May 6, 2020

Joe Biden, “Statement by Vice President Joe Biden on Birth Control Case before the U.S. Supreme Court,” medium.com, May 7, 2020

Jessica Gresko and Mark Sherman, “Justices Wary of ‘Obamacare’ Birth Control Coverage Changes,” apnews.com, May 6, 2020

Tucker Higgins, “Supreme Court Justices Clash over Trump Rules Allowing Religious Employers to Deny Contraceptive Coverage,” cnbc.com, May 6, 2020

Sarah McCammon, “How the Approval of the Birth Control Pill 60 Years ago Helped Change Lives,” npr.org, May 9, 2020

Bill Mears and Ronn Blitzer, “Supreme Court Appears Split along Ideological Lines during Arguments in ObamaCare Contraception Case,” foxnews.com, May 6, 2020

Nina Totenberg, “Religious Objectors v. Birth Control Back at the Supreme Court,” npr.org, May 6, 2020

Donald Trump, Twitter.com, Apr. 1, 2019

Pete Williams, “Supreme Court Appears Divided on Trump Plan to Limit Contraception Coverage,” nbcnews.com, May 6, 2020