July 1, 2015 — The Supreme Court on Monday issued an order that says certain not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious are exempt from following the federal contraceptive coverage rules while the court considers whether to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling on the issue, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 6/29).
Not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious are able to receive accommodations for meeting the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) contraceptive coverage rules for employers. 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 ACA. 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.
In February, a three-judge panel for the 3rd Circuit 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).
In March, the Catholic Diocese of Erie asked the full 3rd Circuit to review the panel's decision, but the appeal was denied. The Catholic Dioceses then appealed the case to the Supreme Court (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/2).