Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. questioned the scope of the Trump administration’s religious liberty law, which exempts employers with religious or moral reasons from providing birth control in health insurance plans.
His question about the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RIFRA) emerged Wednesday in oral arguments conducted via telephone in the Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania case.
“I wonder why it doesn’t sweep too broadly,” Chief Justice Roberts asked the federal government’s attorney. “It is designed to address the concerns about self-certification, and what the Little Sisters call a hijacking of their plan, but the RIFRA exemption reaches far beyond that.”
“I don’t think so, your honor,” said Solicitor General Noel Francisco. “The government may impose that burden if it thinks it can survive strict scrutiny.”
In 2018, the Trump administration expanded religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring employers to provide access to preventive health services including birth control, citing a 1993 law protecting religious liberty.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey sued for an injunction, claiming that under the regulation employers could notify objections to providing birth control, undermining the preventive health protections Congress passed in the Affordable Care Act.
In 2016, the Little Sisters of the Poor last fought the Obamacare mandate at the Supreme Court. Then, the court sent both sides back to a lower court, looking for a compromise by which employees of religious nonprofits might be allowed to use employer-based insurance policies to procure birth control via a government subsidy, rather than through an employer’s contribution.