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Federal Judge Sides With Ga. Catholic Groups in Contraceptive Coverage Case

Federal Judge Sides With Ga. Catholic Groups in Contraceptive Coverage Case

March 28, 2014 — A federal judge in Georgia on Wednesday ruled that certain not-for-profit groups in the state do not have to comply with the federal contraceptive coverage rules, the AP/Augusta Chronicle reports (Brumback, AP/Augusta Chronicle, 3/27).

The contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most health plans to offer contraceptive coverage in their employer-sponsored health plans. 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.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in separate cases challenging the rules that were brought by two private companies whose owners object to providing contraceptive coverage because of their religious beliefs (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/26).

Georgia Case Details

The case was filed in October 2013 by two independent not-for-profits -- Catholic Education of North Georgia and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta -- that are affiliated with the Catholic Church. CENG implements the archdiocese's educational agenda in five independent Catholic schools, according to court filings. CCAD provides social services to the community.

The groups argued that requiring them to fill out a form to avoid providing contraceptive coverage directly makes them complicit in providing the coverage (AP/Augusta Chronicle, 3/27).

Religiously affiliated not-for-profits that object to contraceptive coverage must complete a form that states their objection. Doing so requires the organizations' insurers or a third-party administrator to organize and pay for the birth control coverage options for the organizations' employees (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/13). "Catholic groups have argued signing such a form makes them complicit in providing contraception coverage," which they oppose on religious grounds, according to the AP/Chronicle.

Ruling

U.S. District Judge William Duffey permanently prohibited the federal government from enforcing the contraceptive coverage rules on the plaintiffs on the grounds that the requirements violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (PL 103-141). RFRA prohibits the government from implementing rules that substantially burden a person's religious practice.

Duffey ruled that because the archdioceses are "entirely exempt" from the rules, the groups and schools that they manage also are exempt.

According to the AP/Chronicle, a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to after-hours requests for comment (AP/Augusta Chronicle, 3/27).