Beliefs News

Religious groups try to sway Supreme Court in birth control case

A view of the Supreme Court on Oct. 7, 2014. Religion News Service photo by Lauren Markoe

(RNS) One of the most anticipated cases of this Supreme Court season revolves around nuns and birth control.

Zubik v. Burwell, which comes before the justices Wednesday (March 23), addresses one of the most contentious parts of the Affordable Care Act: the requirement that employers offer certain types of birth control to their employees — the so-called contraceptive mandate. A case decided by the court in 2014 exempted the Hobby Lobby craft store chain, and other “closely held” for-profit companies with religious objections, from the provision. The Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns, is suing on similar grounds.

The sisters and other religious plaintiffs assert that the birth control provision violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which made it tougher for the federal government to restrict a person’s free exercise of religion. The plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell also object to the way in which they must claim an exemption: by informing their insurer or the government that they want one. Doing so, they argue, would make them complicit by triggering a process that would provide their employees with birth control through another avenue.

On the other side of the case is the Obama administration, which holds that the contraceptive mandate does not impinge on the religious rights of the nuns and the other parties suing the government.

Below is a list of religious organizations and others that have submitted “friend of the court” briefs on the case, in hopes of influencing the court’s eight justices. They are expected to rule on the case in late spring or early summer.

Siding with the nuns

Orthodox Jewish Rabbis

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, et al.

CNS International Ministries Inc. and Heartland Christian College

Breast Cancer Prevention Institute

Residents and Families of Residents at Homes of the Little Sisters of the Poor

The School of the Ozarks Inc.

Justice and Freedom Fund

Ethics and Public Policy Center

Texas, et al. filed.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, et al.

Christian Legal Society, et al.

Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye Inc., et al.

Christian and Missionary Alliance Foundation Inc.

207 Members of Congress

National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs

Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund Inc.

Former Justice Department Officials

Cato Institute and Independent Women’s Forum

National Association of Evangelicals, et al.

50 Catholic Theologians and Ethicists

Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, et al.

Constitutional Law Scholars

Women Speak for Themselves

Liberty Counsel

Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

The Knights of Columbus

Bart Stupak, et al.

Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, et al.

Thomas More Law Center

ACNA Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy, et al.

Eternal Word Television Network

David Boyle

Thirteen Law Professors

International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers

Concerned Women for America

Michael J. New, Ph.D., Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute

American Center for Law and Justice

U.S. Justice Foundation, et al.

Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, et al.

The Catholic Benefits Association, et al.

Religious Institutions

Siding with the Obama administration

American Humanist Association

Harvard Law School Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, et al.

American Civil Liberties Union, et al.

Church-State Scholars

The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance, et al.

Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Compassion & Choices

National Women’s Law Center and 68 Other Organizations

Norman Dorsen, et al.

American Jewish Committee, et al.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, et al.

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, et al.

Catholics for Choice, et al.

Former State Attorneys General, et al.

Foreign and International Law Experts Lawrence O. Gostin, et al.

240 Students, Faculty and Staff at Religiously Affiliated Universities

American Academy of Pediatrics

Scholars of Religious Liberty Sarah Barringer Gordon, et al.

Health Policy Experts

Anti-Defamation League, et al.

Black Women’s Health Imperative

Guttmacher Institute, and Professor Sara Rosenbaum

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc., et al.

123 Members of the United States Congress

Military Historians

The National Health Law Program, et al.

California, et al.

Honorable Robert C. “Bobby” Scott

The Center for Inquiry, and American Atheists

(List courtesy of SCOTUSblog)

(Lauren Markoe is a national reporter for RNS)

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)


Click here to post a comment

  • I side with nuns as I’m a huge supporter of the Cato Institute and Indpendent Women’s Forum.

  • Nothing like the 1AD religious nuts and the 19th century conservative
    Supreme Court and 18th century Republican Party in collapse getting involved in 21st century medicine and woman’s rights.

  • Frankly the only reason to oppose birth control is because your given religion has an arbitrary rule against it. Because there is absolutely nothing remotely rational, sensible or moral about opposing such things.

    Without religious 1diocy, this would be a non-issue..

  • When the Republican governor of Massachusetts instituted Romneycare which provided coverage for abortion, the Church was silent. But when the Democratic president initiated the Affordable Care Act, at enormous taxpayer expense over 100 lawsuits have been filed in federal courts challenging the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit. The vast majority were brought by Catholic bishops and their affiliated institutions. (see

  • Uhhh, The Republican Party was founded in 1854, not in the 18th century. Oh how our schools have failed in educating the masses. But you are correct that government shouldn’t be involved in healthcare.

  • Oh I’m sure that certain religious groups were fighting the contraception mandate in MA. You get more lawsuits because now the other 49 states and territories must comply with Obamacare. Why should a 60 year old woman be forced to buy insurance that covers pregnancy? Very odd law indeed.

  • Why would a man be forced to buy insurance that covers hysterectomies? Why should young people buy insurance that covers knee and hip replacements? Why should thin people buy insurance that covers bariatric procedures? That’s the nature of group insurance. It’s not odd at all. Otherwise, no one (outside the 1%ers) could afford medical insurance!

  • Actually, a quick search shows little opposition to Romneycare in Massachusetts from Roman Catholic groups. From that, it’s pretty easy to infer that the opposition to ACA is because it was a Democratic idea (pushed by a BLACK president). Racism underlies much, if not most, opposition to the duly elected president and it is disgusting.

  • Roman Catholic have traditionally been Democrats. They are gradually shifting to the Republican side, because the Democratic party has embraced a number of issues inimical to their religion. Their aversion to ACA is not because of racism, but of ethics and religion; the same objections are now being made to Hilary Clinton.

  • I really wish the Roman Catholic hierarchy and right wing religious groups would butt the hell out of my health care and that of my daughters, nieces, cousins, neighbors, unknown women on the street, etc. It gets so tiresome having to fight for the right to control my own body like any sentient adult American citizen. If I want to have a child, I’ll have a child. If I don’t want to have a child I’ll refrain from sexual intercourse, use birth control, or have an abortion. It’s all my business. Stop trying to take away all but the first option by law and/or making options in accessible. Just butt the hell out!

    (Tell me one way these right wing groups try to control the fertility of the impregnators and I’ll believe this is not a crucial part of the War on Women. One equivalent way. Just 1.)

  • “The plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell also object to the way in which they must claim an exemption: by informing their insurer or the government that they want one. Doing so, they argue, would make them complicit by triggering a process that would provide their employees with birth control through another avenue.”

    Complicit? I had no idea that the Little Sisters of Charity were in charge of the federal government and responsible for its actions. They actually get to manage what the government does after they assert their beliefs on paper?

    This isn’t about controlling birth. It’s about controlling others..

  • Their aversion to the ACA is because when it comes to healthcare, the Catholic Church always put itself and dogma above the consent and personal needs of people. They are more than willing to endanger people’s lives to adhere to dogma and have no respect for the intimate private wishes of others. They are annoyed employees would want to seek contraception at their own cost. Well it was never their business in the first place.

    And let me repeat there is no rational or moral purpose behind opposing contraception. It is never about constitution. It’s about control.

  • You still have YOUR CHOICE WITH YOUR BODY.

    You just don’t have your choice with MY BODY.

  • Insurance covers Viagra. Ban contraceptives. Then ban abortion. THERE !! Women under control in their “place”. (In case it isn’t evident, that was SNARKY)

  • Yes, because being without health coverage means we all have to pick up the tab for you and you pose a public health menace. As for choices with our bodies, evidently the Nuns and co think they get to make those choices for everyone else.

  • I agree completely! We could add school taxes for the people who don’t have children in the school system. The list just goes on and on!

  • Please understand that this is NOT a freedom of religion issue.
    Freedom OF Religion does NOT mean that you or anyone, has the right to not be offended by the actions or beliefs of others.
    Also, there ARE religious groups signed up on the side of the Obama Admin!!!

  • With all due respect, this article does not contain a great deal of absolutely relevant information.
    All the nuns would have to do is to complete two pages (at most) of paperwork stating that providing birth control is against their religion.
    THE issue is that they are arguing that doing this will ultimately lead to their employees receiving the ability to have coverage withOUT the employers providing it.

2019 NewsMatch Campaign: This Story Can't Wait! Donate.