During CCAR Connect in March 2020, many of us learned from Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, about “The Pursuit of Reproductive Rights as Human Rights.” In her keynote presentation, she discussed two important cases going before the Supreme Court this term. One of these could determine the availability of contraception to large numbers of Americans. The CCAR has just joined in a brief amicus curiae to the Court insisting that women continue to have a right to free contraception.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that group insurance plans make contraception available at no cost. If a house of worship or a religiously affiliated employer does not want to offer contraception coverage, it can notify the government, and the government will provide that coverage directly to the employees. In the Hobby Lobby case of 2014, the Court extended this opt-out to certain for-profit businesses.
Since then, the federal government has issued regulations that would allow any employer of any type that claims “moral objections” not only to opt out of having its insurance provide free contraceptive coverage but to ensure that the government could no longer provide that free coverage either. In other words, any employer that so desired could keep its employees from getting free contraceptive coverage, despite the ACA’s mandate. The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a nationwide injunction preventing these regulations from taking effect, and that injunction is before the Supreme Court now in two cases that have been effectively joined as one, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania.
Working with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the CCAR joined a brief filed by several religious organizations, including some Muslim, Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, and a number of Jewish ones. It highlights how there is support for contraception in several religions. Allowing employers to use their own religious beliefs to deprive employees of contraceptive coverage would favor one person’s religious persuasion over others. In the words of the brief, “In a religiously pluralistic society, a woman’s contraception coverage should not depend on the religious or moral beliefs of her employer or university.”
It is appropriate that this brief is being filed during chol hamoeid Pesach, this season of our freedom. Contraceptives serve various health benefits, not all directly related to pregnancy. But perhaps their most important contribution is expressed in this sentence from the brief: “Improved access to contraception enables women to achieve their educational and professional goals, earn more income, and enjoy more stable marriages.” In other words, limiting the ability of Americans to access medically reliable contraception will interfere with the freedom of women. During Passover of all times, that cannot stand. We in the CCAR have long realized that such limitations are inconsistent with our Jewish values. Today, we said as much to the highest court in the land.
Rabbi Thomas M. Alpert serves Temple Etz Chaim in Franklin, MA.