On Wednesday, December 26th, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor refused to block the part of the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide coverage for contraception in their employee insurance plans. The case specifically refers to the emergency contraception known as the “morning after” pill. In September, two companies–the Hobby Lobby and Mardel, Inc, owned by the same Christian family–sued the federal government over the provision. If the companies do not cooperate in providing the coverage, they will face a fine of $1.3 million per day, beginning January 1st.
In U.S. District Court, attorneys argued that company officials would have to violate their faith in order to provide the coverage because, they maintain, the contraception is an “abortion pill” that prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Government lawyers argued that the pill does not have that effect. Last month, Judge Joe Heaton ruled against the companies, resulting in a request on Friday for an injunction. Heaton ruled that while churches and other religious organizations have been granted constitutional protection from the birth-control provisions:
“Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations.” [Source]
At the center of the controversy is the dispute over how emergency contraception works. As a point of fact, scientists have known for ten years that this form of contraception does not act to abort a fertilized egg. Instead, it prevents a woman from ovulating, allowing enough time for the sperm to die before an egg is released from her ovaries. Therefore, fertilization doesn’t typically occur, nor would the pill prevent implantation if it did occur. The nickname of “morning after” pill has given rise to misconceptions; the term refers to the morning after intercourse, not the morning after fertilization. However, the plaintiffs ‘believe’ that the pill causes abortions. The evidence from both sides will now have to wait for the case to return to the lower courts and wend its way through the appeals process.
In her decision (pdf link), Sotomayor wrote that the Supreme Court had never listened to such freedom-of-religion claims made by for-profit companies. Furthermore, the claim does not meet the standard for an emergency injunction:
“Applicants do not satisfy the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief they seek. First, whatever the ultimate merits of the applicants’ claims, their entitlement to relief is not ‘indisputably clear’.”
The case will join dozens of other lawsuits against the contraceptive provision, all of which are making their way through the court system.