Appeals court strikes down Obamacare contraception mandate
In a rare victory for religious freedom, an appeals court in St. Louis has ruled that the Obamacare contraception mandate places an "undue burden" on religiously affiliated organizations.
The Obama administration had come up with a "constitutional workaround" by forcing religious groups to include contraception in their insurance plans, but require that the insurance companies pay for it. The court ruled that the compromise still violated the religious freedom of the plaintiffs.
A U.S. appeals court has ruled that President Barack Obama's healthcare law violates the rights of religiously affiliated employers by forcing them to help provide contraceptive coverage even though they do not have to pay for it.
Parting ways with all other appeals courts that have considered the issue, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on Thursday issued a pair of decisions upholding orders by two lower courts barring the government from enforcing the law's contraceptive provisions against a group of religiously affiliated employers.
The split in the circuit courts created makes it more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue in its coming term, which begins in October and runs through June. Several employers have already filed petitions with the court.
The Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, requires employers to provide insurance for their employees, including access to contraception, sterilization and other preventative services for women.
The law allows religiously affiliated non-profit employers to opt out of paying for contraceptive coverage directly. Once they do, insurers must provide the coverage separately at no extra cost to the employee. Employers that do not follow the opt-out process face a financial penalty.
Many employers have filed lawsuits against the government, claiming that the opt-out process makes them complicit in providing contraceptive coverage. Before Thursday, however, every appeals court that considered the issue has rejected that argument.
Heartland Christian College and addiction services non-profit CNS International Ministries Inc, both based in Missouri, and Dordt College and Cornerstone University, both in Iowa, filed the lawsuits before the 8th Circuit.
They object to emergency contraceptives, including Plan B from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (TEVA.TA), which they believe are equivalent to abortion.
The employers say the opt-out provision violates a 1993 federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The administration is obviously clueless about the conscience of religious institutions. What difference does it make who pays for the contraception coverage? The fact that they are forced against their religious teachings to offer contraceptive coverage in the first place is what's important.
Unfortunately, other appeals courts have ruled that the "compromise" offered by the administration is "reasonable," which is why every other federal appeals court has ruled against the plaintiffs seeking relief. I suppose that the workaround meets some kind of legal standard for being "reasonable" but only in a secular sense.
It is likely that another appeals court will overturn this decision and leave people of strong religious beliefs out in the cold.