November 12, 2014 — A federal judge appeared open to an antiabortion-rights group's arguments last week in challenge to the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) contraceptive coverage rules, but he called the issue complex and said it could take him months to rule, CQ Roll Call reports.
HHS and plaintiff March for Life presented arguments in the case to U.S. District Judge Richard Leon last week.
March for Life, best known for its annual antiabortion-rights march in Washington, D.C., only hires employees who oppose abortion rights. The group is seeking an exemption from the contraceptive coverage rules because it considers certain contraceptives to be the equivalent of an abortion and "morally unacceptable."
Houses of worship are exempt from the contraceptive coverage rules, but not-for-profits like March for Life are not (Ruger, CQ Roll Call, 11/11). Meanwhile, not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious and object to contraception are eligible for an accommodation that aims to ensure that enrollees in their health plans still have access to contraceptive coverage benefits under the ACA (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/29).
Plaintiffs' attorney Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, pointed out that religious organizations that are eligible for the exemption can seek it even if their employees do not necessarily share their employers' views, but March for Life cannot seek it. He argued that HHS, therefore, is arbitrarily deciding which employers are exempt.
According to CQ Roll Call, Leon pressed HHS attorney Adam Grogg to explain the government's reasons for the distinction but "never seemed satisfied by the answers."
Grogg argued that the exemption is to accommodate religious institutions' religious interests, adding that it is in the government's interest to maintain a "workable and functioning insurance market" that includes organizations like March for Life.
Leon called Grogg's explanation of the government's interest "[b]road" (CQ Roll Call, 11/11).