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Federal Judge Rules Secular Group Eligible for Exemption From Federal Contraceptive Coverage Rules

Federal Judge Rules Secular Group Eligible for Exemption From Federal Contraceptive Coverage Rules

September 8, 2015 — A federal judge last week ruled that March for Life, an antiabortion-rights not-for-profit that opposes contraception, is eligible for an exemption from the federal contraceptive coverage rules even though the organization is secular rather than religious, the New York Times reports.

According to the Times, the federal government is expected to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Liptak, New York Times, 8/31).

Background

The contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most employers to offer contraceptive coverage in their employer-sponsored health plans. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, and not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious and oppose contraception are eligible for an accommodation that ensures they do not have to pay for or directly provide the coverage to their employees (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/10).

March for Life, a secular not-for-profit, is not eligible for the exemption (Ruger, CQ News, 8/31). The not-for-profit, which only hires employees who oppose abortion rights, is seeking an exemption from the contraceptive coverage rules because it considers certain contraceptives to be the equivalent of an abortion (Women's Health Policy Reports, 11/12/14). According to the Times, scientists disagree that the types of contraception opposed by March for Life -- including emergency contraception, intrauterine devices and hormonal contraception -- are abortifacients (New York Times, 8/31).

In 2014, March for Life filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming that the contraceptive coverage rules were unconstitutional because they provided an exemption for houses of worship but not for secular groups that oppose contraception.

Ruling Details

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon said HHS violated the 5th Amendment's equal protection clause by denying March for Life an exemption to the contraceptive coverage rules while exempting houses of worship (CQ News, 8/31). In his ruling, he wrote that such actions amounted to "regulatory favoritism."

In addition, Leon ruled in favor of two March for Life employees who claimed that the government violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141). The employees had raised religious objections to having insurance plans that covered contraception (New York Times, 8/31).