National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Full D.C. Circuit Rejects Request To Rehear Challenge to ACA's Contraceptive Coverage Rules

Full D.C. Circuit Rejects Request To Rehear Challenge to ACA's Contraceptive Coverage Rules

May 26, 2015 — The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Wednesday denied a request from Priests for Life to rehear a challenge to the federal contraceptive coverage rules, the Washington Times reports (Howell, Washington Times, 5/20).

Case Background

Priests for Life objects 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.

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 can 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.

In November 2014, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously ruled that the accommodation does not substantially burden the religious beliefs of PFL in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141).

PFL appealed the decision to the full court, arguing that the three-judge panel's decision violated the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Meanwhile, attorneys for the Obama administration in response told the appeals court that PFL should not be granted any further accommodations under the contraceptive coverage rules because not-for-profits already are extended several accommodations for which Hobby Lobby, as a for-profit company, was not eligible (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/20).

Details of Latest Ruling

A majority of the D.C. circuit's judges rejected PFL's request to rehear the case.

Judge Nina Pillard wrote for the court that the accommodation "allows Plaintiffs to continue to do just what they did before the [ACA]: notify their insurers of their sincere religious objection to contraception, and arrange for contraception to be excluded from the health insurance coverage they provide." She added, "The dispute we resolved is legal, not religious."

Two D.C. circuit's judges dissented, saying they thought the full circuit court should hear PFL's case (Washington Times, 5/20).