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Birth Control and the First Amendment

Can the government require religious institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives? Critics charge that a federal health care regulation infringes free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. Get a legal expert’s take on the so-called Birth Control Mandate.

By
Adam Freedman

Today’s topic: Birth Control and the First Amendment.

And now, your daily dose of legalese: This article does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. In other words, although I am a lawyer, I’m not your lawyer. In fact, we barely know each other. If you need personalized legal advice, contact an attorney in your community.

What is the Birth Control Mandate?

In January 2012, the US Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a new rule that will require virtually all employers to provide health insurance that covers contraceptives. This rule – sometimes referred as the “birth control mandate” – is part of the 2010 health care reform law (known as the Affordable Care Act, or ACA). In today’s article, I’ll explain why this rule has become so controversial.

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The Affordable Care Act

Under Affordable Care Act, organizations with 50 or more employees will generally be required to offer health insurance to their employees, starting in 2014. The January 2012 regulation, however, clarified that such insurance must cover contraception, and that exceptions to that requirement are very narrow. Some religious organizations could get an exemption, but only those that serve primarily their own believers and not the broader community. 

In short, although a church would not be required to subsidize birth control coverage for its employees, a church-affiliated university, or hospital, or charity would.   The rule provoked an outcry among religious groups and politicians, who claim that it violates the Constitution.

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