Former vice president Joe Biden pledged on Wednesday to reinstate Obama-era policies that would require the Little Sisters of the Poor to ensure access to birth control and abortifacients for employees in violation of their religious beliefs.
Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, made the promise on July 8, following the Supreme Court decision in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the case Little Sisters of the Poorv. Pennsylvania, which upheld an exemption for the sisters from the “contraception mandate” which obliges employers to provide for contraceptive coverage for employees through their health care plans.
“If I am elected I will restore the Obama-Biden policy that existed before the [Supreme Court’s 2014] Hobby Lobbyruling: providing an exemption for houses of worship and an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious missions,” said Biden in a statement released by his campaign.
“This accommodation will allow women at these organizations to access contraceptive coverage, not through their employer-provided plan, but instead through their insurance company or a third-party administrator.”
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, while Biden was serving as vice president. On August 1, 2011, then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebellius announced an interim final rule that required all ACA-compliant insurance plans to cover at least one form of female birth control, including sterilization. At the time the bill was voted on and signed, there was no contraception mandate included.
The rule, finalized on January 20, 2012, contained a narrow religious exemption to the mandate which only covered employees of a church or religious organization. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order dedicated to serving the elderly poor, were one of many groups who were not covered under the religious exemption because they do not exclusively employ or serve Catholics.
The Little Sisters of the Poor have repeatedly stated that authorizing a “third-party administrator” to provide birth control to their employees is still a violation of their beliefs and is not an acceptable compromise.
Following an initial 2016 appeal to the Supreme Court, in 2017, the Trump administration granted a religious and moral exemption to the mandate for the sisters and other objecting groups. Several states filed lawsuits saying that the executive action shifted the burden of providing coverage onto the states and claimed the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act in setting up the exemption.
On Wednesday, the court found that the Trump administration “had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption,” and “that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects.”
The court’s decision only found in favor of the executive action excusing the sisters and others with conscience objections – action that could be revoked or reversed by a subsequent administration.
On Wednesday, Biden, who has campaigned on the importance of his Catholic faith, said he did not agree with either the court’s decision or the exemption for the sisters, adding that there is “a clear path to fixing it: electing a new President who will end Donald Trump’s ceaseless attempts to gut every aspect of the Affordable Care Act.”
“I am disappointed in today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that will make it easier for the Trump-Pence Administration to continue to strip health care from women – attempting to carve out broad exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s commitment to giving all women free access to recommended contraception,” said Biden.