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Supreme Court Hears Case On Birth Control Access And Obamacare

Saul Loeb AFP via Getty Images
Nuns rally outside the Supreme Court in 2016 following oral arguments in seven cases dealing with religious organizations that want to ban contraceptives from their health insurance policies. The court is hearing arguments in a related case on Wednesday.

Updated at 12:06 p.m. ET

A closely divided Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case involving Trump administration rules that would allow employers who claim a religious or moral objection to opt out of providing free birth control in their health care plans.

The rule significantly cuts back on access to birth control under the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, which sought to equalize preventive health care coverage for women and men by requiring employers to include free birth control in their plans.

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In a question to Solicitor General Noel Francisco, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who participated in the argument from hospital in Baltimore, said the Trump administration had "tossed entirely to the wind what Congress considered to be essential, that women be provided this service, with no hassle and no cost to them."

Justice Brett Kavanaugh called the case "difficult," and noted "very strong interests on both sides."

The Obama administration exempted houses of worship and religiously affiliated organizations from the requirement — allowing them to opt out, but still granting women on the plans free birth control options. But some groups said that process violated their religious beliefs.

In 2017, the Trump administration announced a new rule that allowed such groups to opt out without providing free alternate coverage. New Jersey and Pennsylvania challenged the rules and lower courts prevented the regulations from going into effect — prompting the Trump administration to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The argument, like others this week, was livestreamed and conducted by telephone because of the coronavirus outbreak. Ginsburg, who was hospitalized Tuesdayfor a benign gallbladder condition, for which she underwent nonsurgical treatment, participated in the arguments by phone from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

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The birth control arguments lasted about an hour and 40 minutes. Then the court moved on to a separate case about political groups and robocalls.

A ruling in the cases — Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania — are expected later in the summer.

Here's a rundown of the cases so far this week and what's coming up next.

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