November 9, 2012 — Dozens of lawsuits challenging the federal contraceptive coverage rules provide a new round of challenges to President Obama and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), Politico reports.
The lawsuits do not threaten the standing of the ACA itself, unlike the challenges against the law's individual mandate that were heard by the Supreme Court. Nonetheless, the legal battles could "pose quite a distraction," according to Politico.
Additionally, the large number of cases -- now more than 35 -- could increase the chances that the Supreme Court will ultimately decide the issue, according to Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in religious liberty. Conflicting decisions in multiple cases make it more likely that the high court will review the issue.
Two Types of Lawsuits
According to Politico, the challenges mostly can be divided into two types of cases.
One type includes religious schools and not-for-profit groups that qualify for a one-year "safe harbor" from having to comply with the rules (Haberkorn/Smith, Politico, 11/9). Judges have dismissed some of these cases as premature because the plaintiffs do not face an immediate threat of having to offer the coverage (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/4).
The second type of suit involves private, secular companies that do not qualify for the delay period. Two plaintiffs have been granted injunctions temporarily shielding them from penalties for not complying while the cases are being decided.
As soon as this month, the Supreme Court might order the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear a suit filed by Liberty University against the contraceptive coverage requirement and other provisions of the ACA.
The 4th Circuit could hear the case early next year. Liberty's lawyers predict that if they lose, they could appeal and argue the case before the Supreme Court in late 2013 (Politico, 11/9).