SAN FRANCISCO - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced that California, leading a coalition of 16 states and the District of Columbia, has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Zubik, et al. v. Burwell et al., urging the Court to protect women’s access to contraceptive coverage under the federal government’s Affordable Care Act (ACA). The brief, written by California, was joined by Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
“A woman’s right to access contraception should not hinge on the religious beliefs of her employer,” said Attorney General Harris. “The right to healthcare services is justly protected under federal law, and the Supreme Court should uphold the ACA’s common-sense accommodation for religious organizations and protect women’s access to essential healthcare.”
The ACA provides an accommodation for religious nonprofit organizations that object to its requirement that employer-provided health insurance plans contain coverage for preventative healthcare, including contraception. Through this accommodation, these organizations can simply opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to their employees by informing their insurance company or the federal government of their objection to this coverage. If an organization does opt out, the insurer will then provide contraceptive coverage directly to employees at the insurance companies own expense. In the Zubik case, several nonprofit religious organizations filed suit against Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, arguing that this opt-out accommodation violates their religious beliefs.
Attorney General Harris and the 17 other attorneys general argue in the brief that the Court should not interpret the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in a way that defeats and interferes with the essential and compelling purposes of the ACA and its preventative contraceptive healthcare coverage requirements. As the brief notes, access to contraceptives is not only essential for public health, but is consistent with the intent of Congress in passing the ACA to ensure that all covered employees have access to no-cost preventive care, free of logistical and administrative barriers.
The brief argues that the ACA’s opt-out accommodation does not create a substantial burden and therefore does not interfere with or violate the rights of these organizations under RFRA. The brief also argues that the alternatives to this common-sense accommodation proposed by the religious employers would impose significant financial, logistical, informational, and administrative burdens on women seeking access to contraception. These burdens would fall hardest on women with the fewest informational and financial resources to overcome them.
The brief urges the Court to interpret RFRA in a manner that would not interfere with States’ goals and prerogatives to protect public health and promote gender equity.
In January 2014, Attorney General Harris authored a multi-state friend-of-the-court brief in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., urging the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling allowing for-profit companies to deny essential healthcare to female employees based on the religious beliefs of the company’s owners.
In 2015, Attorney General Harris co-sponsored AB 775, the Reproductive FACT Act, to ensure women have equal access to comprehensive reproductive health care and are able to make informed choices about their health. The bill was signed into law by Governor Brown and went into effect on January 1, 2016. The Attorney General’s office is vigorously defending the law in federal and state court.
In January 2106, Attorney General Harris joined 13 other states and the District of Columbia in signing a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decision substantially restricting access to abortion services in Texas.
A copy of the brief is attached to the electronic version of this release at oag.ca.gov/news.