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The Zubik v. Burwell Decision: What Happened, and What's Next?

The Zubik v. Burwell Decision: What Happened, and What's Next?

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Zubik v. Burwell, a consolidation of several cases concerning the accommodation for religious non-profits to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Court ruled to remand, or send back, the case to the lower courts for further review of alternatives to the accommodation as it currently functions, leaving key issues unanswered because the Court did not rule on the merits.

Under the accommodation, religious non-profit organizations can object to providing contraception coverage for their employees. Once the employers notify the government of their objection, a third party administrator works with employees to ensure seamless coverage for contraception.

The accommodation was challenged under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), with petitioners claiming that the accommodation imposes a substantial burden on their religious beliefs. The government argued that the accommodation does not constitute a substantial burden, and even if it did, that the compelling government interest in public health and gender equality is furthered in the least restrictive means.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center, released a statement underscoring that “Women working for religious non-profits must have access to coverage for full contraceptive care…The accommodation crafted by the government for religious non-profits under the Affordable Care Act’s contraception rule wisely and delicately balances religious freedom and reproductive rights.”

The Reform Movement is deeply committed to robust religious freedom rights, including playing a key role in passing RFRA in the 1990s. Further, the Reform Movement has long advocated for women’s full equality in the synagogue and in society, which certainly includes reproductive rights. URJ and CCAR joined American Jewish Committee’s amicus brief on the side of the government, focusing on the substantial burden question, and why the accommodation should not be considered as such. WRJ joined a brief with the National Women’s Law Center, also on the side of the government, focusing on the compelling interest of ensuring contraceptive coverage for women. If any modifications are made in the lower courts, they must ensure that women can receive coverage for contraception without barriers.

The Supreme Court’s decision calls attention to the central role this court plays in issues so important to Americans. Only when the Supreme Court is fully functioning can our justice system best serve the American people. It is long past due for the Senate to schedule a hearing and vote on Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. For more information about the Supreme Court vacancy and the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland in particular, visit the RAC’s special webpage www.askmerrickgarland.com.

Learn more about Zubik v. Burwell and March oral argument. You can also watch the recording of the webinar that we hosted in partnership with Women of Reform Judaism on reproductive rights at the Supreme Court earlier this spring.

Visit the RAC’s issue pages to learn more about the Supreme Court, reproductive rights and religious freedom

Tracy Wolf was a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC), and currently serves as the RAC's Leadership Development Associate. Originally from Syosset, N.Y., she is a member of North Shore Synagogue and a graduate of Dickinson College.

Tracy Wolf