March 31, 2015 — The Catholic Diocese of Erie, Pa., has asked a federal appeals court to review an earlier decision that upheld the federal government's contraceptive coverage accommodations for not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious, the Erie Times News reports (Palattella, Erie Times News, 3/27).
The accommodation aims to ensure that enrollees in health plans for not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious and oppose contraception still have access to contraceptive coverage benefits under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148). The accommodation enables such not-for-profits to notify their insurer or third-party administrator of their objection so the insurer or third-party administrator can facilitate contraceptive coverage for members of their health plans.
In separate lawsuits filed in 2013, Geneva College -- an institution affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church -- and the Catholic Dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, along with their affiliated schools and charities, challenged the accommodation as inadequate. Separate courts granted Geneva College a preliminary injunction and the dioceses a permanent injunction. The Department of Justice in February 2014 then appealed both cases to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.
Last month, a three-judge panel for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court unanimously ruled that "the accommodation places no substantial burden on the appellees." As a result, the panel found that the accommodation does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141) (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/12).
In its filing, the diocese has asked that the case be reheard before the full 3rd Circuit. If the request is denied, the diocese could ask the Supreme Court to hear the case (Erie Times News, 3/27).