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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Obamacare Contraception Challenge Reboot in SCOTUS

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday took up a new series of religious challenges to the contraception-based provisions of federal health care reform.

In the last big case on this issue - Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores - the Supreme Court found that some closely held corporations might qualify for exemption to the contraception mandate that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act already provides for churches.

Several religious orders still contend, however, that Obamacare violates their rights in forcing them to fill out the form necessary to claim their exemption.

Challenges of this nature have gone before federal appeals courts based out Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New Orleans and Denver.

The U.S. Supreme Court took up seven cases Friday and consolidated them for oral argument.

With the exception of designating issues for the court to consider at oral argument, and granting leave for the filing of an amicus brief by the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, the justices did not otherwise comment on the case, as is their custom.

The 10th Circuit had the last say on the issue, ruling this past July on a challenge led by the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, and by Southern Nazarene University.

A divided three-judge panel in that case found that requiring religious objectors to complete a simple administrative task does not substantially burden their religious freedom.

The dissent emphasized that religious orders could still be deemed responsible for providing their employees with contraception since Obamacare requires the insurer to pay for such services itself when the employer claims religious exemption.

"In reality, the accommodation scheme forces the self-insured plaintiffs to perform an act that causes their beneficiaries to receive religiously objected-to coverage," the dissent states. "The fines the government uses to compel this act thus impose a substantial burden on the self-insured plaintiffs' religious exercise. Moreover, less restrictive means exist to achieve the government's contraceptive coverage goals here."

The Third Circuit case reversed injunctions that a federal judge had given the Rev. David Zubik, a Catholic bishop in Pittsburgh, and Geneva College.

This ruling summarizes the "real objection" of Geneva and the others as a challenge "to what happens after the form is provided - that is, to the actions of the insurance issuers and the third-party administrators, required by law, once the appellees give notice of their objection."

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act "does not grant [the appellees] a religious veto against plan providers' compliance with those regulations, nor the right to enlist the government to effectuate such a religious veto against legally required conduct of third parties,'" the ruling states.

This finding echoed the D.C. Circuit's 2014 ruling in Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, which the high court also took up today.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington is a part of that challenge as well.

This past June, the Fifth Circuit rejected a similar challenge by East Texas Baptist University.

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