April 28, 2015 — The Supreme Court on Monday vacated a ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that rejected requests from Catholic groups in Michigan and Tennessee for an exemption from the federal contraceptive coverage rules, Reuters reports (Hurley, Reuters, 4/27).
The Catholic Charities Diocese of Kalamazoo, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Catholic Diocese of Nashville and Michigan Catholic Conference object to an accommodation under the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) contraceptive coverage rules that applies to not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious and oppose contraception (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/13/14).
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, 1/20).
In their lawsuit, the Catholic groups argued that complying with the accommodation would make them "complicit in a great moral wrong." Meanwhile, the Department of Justice argued that the actions the groups would have to take under the accommodation do not substantially burden the groups' religious freedom because they are similar to the groups' previous actions for avoiding contraceptive coverage in their health plans.
In June 2014, the 6th Circuit Court in June 2014 ruled against the plaintiffs, finding that the plaintiffs' arguments did not demonstrate that the accommodation represents "a substantial burden on appellants' exercise of religion" (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/13/14).
In Monday's decision, the Supreme Court ordered the 6th Circuit to reconsider its ruling in light of the high court's 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (Reuters, 4/27). In Hobby Lobby, the high court found that that closely held corporations cannot be required to provide contraceptive coverage in their employer-sponsored health plans if the corporations' owners have religious objections to contraception (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/30/14).
The 6th Circuit's ruling pre-dated the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision (Wilemon, Tennessean, 4/27). According to The Hill, the high court has remanded five other decisions related to the federal contraceptive coverage rules since the Hobby Lobby ruling. The lower courts have typically ruled in favor of upholding the accommodation for not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious (Ferris, The Hill, 4/27).