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Federal Court Hears Appeal in Baptist Universities' Contraceptive Coverage Case

Federal Court Hears Appeal in Baptist Universities' Contraceptive Coverage Case

April 10, 2015 — The federal government on Tuesday asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court ruling that granted East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University an injunction against the federal contraceptive coverage rules, the Houston Chronicle reports (Turner, Houston Chronicle, 4/8).

Background

The contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most employers to offer coverage to their workers. The rules include an exemption for houses of worship and an accommodation for not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious and oppose contraception (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/2/14).

The accommodation enables such not-for-profits to notify their insurers or third-party administrators of their objection so the insurers or third-party administrators can facilitate contraceptive coverage for members of their health plans. To claim the accommodation, the not-for-profits may either complete a form to send to the insurers or third-party administrators or send a letter to HHS stating that they object to offering contraceptive coverage in their health plans (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/9).

In December 2013, a federal judge granted East Texas Baptist and Houston Baptist a preliminary injunction against the mandate. The two universities had argued that the rules violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141) (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/2/14).

According to the Houston Chronicle, three circuit courts have ruled for the federal government in similar cases.

Appeal Details

Adam Jed, a lawyer for the federal government, appealed the lower court ruling before a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit.

Jed said a ruling against the contraceptive coverage measures unfairly deprives U.S. workers and their dependents of contraception. "If the plaintiffs don't want to provide the coverage, all they have to do is raise their hands and say it's something they don't want to do," he said, noting that they are eligible for the not-for-profit accommodation.

Jed contended that the not-for-profits' opposition to allowing a third-party administrator to provide contraceptive coverage is "a novel concept under [RFRA]."

Separately, Eric Rassbach, a lawyer representing the two universities, said his clients believe that they, like houses of worship, should not have to provide forms of contraception that they oppose (Houston Chronicle, 4/8).