November 20, 2014 — A federal appeals court on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a case brought by two Catholic dioceses and an evangelical college in Pennsylvania challenging the government's contraceptive coverage accommodation for not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports (Langley, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/20).
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 Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148). 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 August, in an effort to address ongoing court challenges, HHS announced a new rule that maintains the accommodation but creates a second way for those entities to provide notice of their objections. Under the new option, religiously affiliated not-for-profits can send a letter to HHS stating that they object to offering contraceptive coverage in their health plans (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/17).
In separate lawsuits filed last year, 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 original accommodation as inadequate. Separate courts granted Geneva College a preliminary injunction and the dioceses a permanent injunction. The Department of Justice then appealed both cases to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/13).
Oral Argument Details
Lawyers for the college and the dioceses argued before a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit that the updated accommodation remains insufficient and would still make the plaintiffs "complicit" in providing contraceptives.
However, DOJ attorney Mark Stern said the accommodation is not coercive. "If you're going to provide insurance, you have to tell your insurance company what you want provided. All the plaintiff has to do is tell the government, 'I'm out,'" Stern said (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/20).