June 13, 2014 — A federal appeals court on Wednesday denied requests from Catholic groups in Michigan and Tennessee for an exemption from the federal contraceptive coverage rules, MLive reports (Smith, MLive, 6/11).
The contraceptive rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most for-profit, private businesses 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 coverage to their employees (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/6).
The case before the 6th Circuit involved the Catholic Charities Diocese of Kalamazoo, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Catholic Diocese of Nashville and Michigan Catholic Conference. They argued that although they are eligible for the accommodation, complying with it would still make them "complicit in a great moral wrong." They sought an injunction to prevent them from having to comply with the rules (AP/WTVF, 6/12).
The Department of Justice argued that the actions the plaintiffs would have to take under the accommodation do not substantially burden their religious freedom because they are similar to the groups' previous actions for avoiding contraceptive coverage in their health plans.
Further, DOJ noted that HHS lacks the authority to require the third-party administrators who operate the plaintiffs' health plans to offer contraceptive coverage once the plaintiffs claim the accommodation.
Judge Karen Nelson Moore rejected the plaintiffs' reasoning, writing in her opinion, "Because these objections do not go to actual requirements of the contraceptive-coverage framework, they clearly do not demonstrate a substantial burden on appellants’ exercise of religion" (MLive, 6/11).
She added that the plaintiffs had raised "an objection to the later independent action of a third party, not to an obligation imposed on the appellants by the government," noting, "It is not the act of self-certification that causes the insurance issuer and the third-party administrator to cover contraception, it is the law of the United States that does that" (Viebeck, The Hill, 6/12).