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Contraceptive Coverage Opponents Seek Supreme Court Case; Mo. Lawmaker Wants Personal Exemption From Rules

Contraceptive Coverage Opponents Seek Supreme Court Case; Mo. Lawmaker Wants Personal Exemption From Rules

August 15, 2013 — After a federal appeals court rejected their case, opponents of the federal contraceptive coverage rules on Wednesday said they plan to appeal their case to the Supreme Court, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/14).

The contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most employers to offer the coverage to their workers. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, and religiously affiliated not-for-profits are eligible for an accommodation that ensures they do not have to pay for or directly provide the coverage to their employees. For-profit, private businesses must offer the coverage or face fines (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/9).

In January, U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg denied a request from Conestoga Wood Specialties owner Norman Hahn and his family for a temporary injunction against the rules. The family said it objects to covering some forms of contraception, such as emergency contraception, that they believe cause an abortion. They also argued that corporations' free-speech rights -- recognized in the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision -- should include religious rights.

However, the judge said that expanding the free-speech rights recognized in the Citizens United ruling to include religious rights was a "significant leap" that he was not prepared to take.

In July, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision similarly rejected Contestoga's challenge, ruling that "for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise" (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/29). The court on Wednesday also denied a request by the company to consider the case en banc.

In response, Alliance for Defending Freedom -- one of the organizations challenging the contraceptive coverage rules -- on Wednesday said that it will ask the Supreme Court to consider whether the rules are constitutional. "Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and do business according to their faith," the group said in a statement ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/14).

Mo. Lawmaker Seeks Personal Exemption From Mandate

In related news, a Missouri legislator on Wednesday asked a federal court to exempt his family from the contraceptive coverage provided through his state health insurance plan, arguing that it violates his Catholic faith.

The Thomas More Society filed the lawsuit on behalf of state Rep. Paul Wieland (R) and his wife against HHS and two other federal agencies (O'Neil, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/14).

The suit states that Wieland in previous years opted out of coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients, but he can no longer do so because of the federal rules. The Wielands argue that their religious, free-speech and parental rights have been violated, and they seek a declaratory judgment and injunction (AP/Lebanon Daily Record, 8/15).

Wieland said he is not seeking a blanket ruling against the federal policy, only an exemption in his individual case. However, he added that a legal victory in his case might give other like-minded people the same option.

HHS refused to comment on the pending litigation (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/14).