August 25, 2015 — The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed its prior judgment that accommodations to federal contraceptive coverage rules for not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious do not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141), the AP/Franklin Daily Journal reports (Loller, AP/Franklin Daily Journal, 8/21).
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.
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.
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." However, the Supreme Court in April ordered the 6th Circuit to reconsider its ruling in light of the high court's 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which found 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.
The high court has remanded several other decisions related to the federal contraceptive coverage rules since the Hobby Lobby ruling (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/28).
A three-judge panel on the 6th Circuit on Friday affirmed its initial ruling (AP/Franklin Daily Journal, 8/21).
The judges said the federal contraceptive coverage rules' accommodation for not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious and oppose contraception "effectively insulates these entities from the contraception-provision process." The judges explained, "They no longer have to pay for contraceptive coverage, and all individuals under their plans are notified of the entity's religious objections."
Further, the ruling noted that Hobby Lobby pertains to a "fundamentally different" issue than the case before the 6th Circuit, which involves "whether an entity's decision not to provide such coverage by exercising an accommodation is, by itself, a violation of that entity's religious beliefs" (McVicar, MLive/Grand Rapids Press, 8/21).
10th Circuit Stays Contraceptive Coverage Ruling While Challengers Seek SCOTUS Review
In related news, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday granted a request to stay its earlier ruling upholding the accommodation while opponents of the contraceptive coverage rules ask the Supreme Court to consider their case, Reuters reports (Coffman, Reuters, 8/21).
The 10th Circuit in July ruled that the federal government's contraceptive coverage accommodation for not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious does not infringe on the religious rights of a Colorado-based order of nuns, four Christian colleges in Oklahoma and an evangelist organization called Reaching Souls International (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/15). The plaintiffs requested the stay while they petition the Supreme Court to hear their case.
On Friday, a three-judge panel on the 10th Circuit said the stay would remain in place until the high court decides whether to hear the case, and, if it does hear the case, "the stay of the mandate shall continue until the Supreme Court's final disposition" (Reuters, 8/21).