SPRINGFIELD — A U.S. Supreme Court decision this week that could make it more difficult for women to access birth control will not impact Illinois law, state officials and advocacy groups say.
The nation’s highest court upheld a federal rule established in 2018 that allows employers with moral or religious objections to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that health insurance cover the cost of birth control. The act includes an automatic exemption only for houses of worship. Under the Trump administration rule upheld Wednesday, essentially all non-governmental employers now have the ability to opt out.
Those organizations were required to actively withdraw from coverage they disagreed with so their insurance companies could offer free alternatives to employees.
In a statement, the Illinois Department of Insurance said the state’s reproductive health care coverage requirements for women and men “will continue to be enforced for plans subject” to the department’s oversight.
Those mandates were included in a sweeping overhaul of Illinois statute last year. The Reproductive Health Act, sponsored in the General Assembly by Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, and Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, declared access to contraception and other benefits as a fundamental right. That means no level of government in Illinois can infringe upon a person’s access to those services.
The RHA also specified that private insurance companies regulated by the state must cover abortions if they also cover pregnancy-related benefits.
That “monumental measure affirms women, not politicians or employers, can and should make their own decisions,” Bush said in a statement.
“This administration supports an individual’s access to birth control and is disappointed by the Supreme Court ruling which further erodes the health care and insurance protections of the Affordable Care Act,” the Insurance Department spokesperson wrote. “…Our administration will continue to uphold and enforce the right to reproductive care in Illinois.”
A spokesperson for the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based law firm that focuses on defending religious rights, said the firm agrees the Supreme Court’s ruling does not affect Illinois regulations. Michael McHale, an attorney with the firm, said the decision “is to be applauded.”
Its lawsuit challenging the state insurance mandates, filed in Sangamon County court, is still pending.
Attorney General Kwame Y. Raoul’s office is “carefully reviewing” the ruling, a spokesperson said in an email.
She added Raoul “is committed to ensuring that women have the right to make their own reproductive health care decisions and to defending Illinois laws such as the Reproductive Health Act to ensure all Illinois residents can access safe health care.”
Ameri R.Klafeta, director of the ACLU of Illinois’ Women’s and Reproductive Rights Project, said that while Illinois has strong laws in place to protect access to reproductive health care, “there are still groups of people who stand to lose birth control coverage in this state as a result of yesterdays’ decision.”
While legally the Supreme Court’s ruling does not impact the validity of Illinois’ insurance mandates, practically, women who have employer insurance through the Affordable Care Act may be charged higher costs for contraception.
“The decision will leave many employees and students being forced to pay out of pocket for their birth control or scramble to find other ways to obtain it,” she said. “Unfortunately, it will disproportionately impact people who are already struggling to make ends meet, an extra burden in the difficult economic times our country faces. Birth control is important not just for women’s health, but for their economic security and equality.”