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Appeals Court Hears Catholic Groups' Challenge Over Contraceptive Coverage

Appeals Court Hears Catholic Groups' Challenge Over Contraceptive Coverage

May 12, 2014 — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Thursday heard arguments over the Obama administration's accommodation for not-for-profit religious groups that oppose offering contraceptive coverage in their employer health plans, Politico Pro reports (Winfield Cunningham, Politico Pro, 5/8).

Federal rules implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) require most insurers to offer contraceptive coverage in their employer-sponsored health plans. The accommodation for religiously affiliated not-for-profits ensures that they do not have to pay for or directly provide the coverage to their employees (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/8). To be eligible for the accommodation, the not-for-profits must complete a written notice authorizing a third party to provide the coverage for their employees (Politico Pro, 5/8).

Thursday's Hearing

A three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit heard arguments from attorneys representing the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and Priests for Life, as well as attorneys representing the Obama administration (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 5/8). The Catholic groups argued that signing a form still involves the organizations in the provision of contraception. Attorney Noel Francisco, representing the diocese, said, "Signing it renders them complicit in immoral conduct" (Politico Pro, 5/8).

According to Reuters/Chicago Tribune, judges "pressed" the Catholic groups' lawyers on what they would define as a burden for the religious not-for-profit groups. Judge Nina Pillard asked, "Is there anything a plaintiff could sincerely object to that wouldn't be a 'substantial burden?'" (Viswanatha, Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 5/8).

Meanwhile, Department of Justice attorney Mark Stern argued, "What [the groups] object to is simply the fact that once they opt out, government regulations kick in." Even without the federal rules, the groups would still have to notify insurers that they did not want their employers' coverage to include contraception, Stern noted (Politico Pro, 5/8).