Supreme Court Takes Action in Another Religious Objection to Obamacare’s Birth Control Benefit

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Supreme Court Takes Action in Another Religious Objection to Obamacare’s Birth Control Benefit

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The order from the Supreme Court Monday directs the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to reconsider its decision that the birth control benefit accommodation process does not violate federal law.

The Supreme Court on Monday sent another lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s process for accommodating religious objections to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit back to a lower court for a second look.

The Roberts Court ordered the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to reconsider an earlier decision in Michigan Catholic Conference v. Burwell that the accommodation process for religiously affiliated nonprofits who wish to avoid complying with the birth control benefit was not a burden on those groups’ religious rights.

Monday’s order instructs the Sixth Circuit to reconsider its previous ruling in light of last summer’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the Court ruled for-profit corporations could raise religious objections to the benefit.

The ACA requires some employers that provide health insurance plans to offer plans covering contraception as part of the package of preventive care services with no additional cost or co-pay. The law includes an exemption for churches and other houses of worship.

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The law also contains an accommodation process for religiously affiliated nonprofits that are not churches but maintain a religious objection to providing plans with contraception coverage. That process allows the objecting employer to complete a form notifying the administration of their religious objection. This triggers a process whereby the insurance company contracts directly with the person who wants contraception coverage with no additional cost or involvement for the objecting employer.

The Sixth Circuit case involves legal challenges from a group of religiously affiliated nonprofits located in Michigan and Tennessee and mirrors claims brought across the country by hospitals, nursing homes, and other nonprofits that object to completing the paperwork required to accommodate their objection.

They argue the accommodation process violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal statute designed to protect people from regulatory action that impinges on their religious freedoms.

The Supreme Court in March granted a similar request by the University of Notre Dame and directed the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to take another look at its decision to order the university to comply with the birth control benefit. Oral arguments in the Seventh Circuit took place in April, but the appeals court has not yet issued its ruling.

So far every federal court of appeals to consider whether the Obama administration’s accommodation process violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has agreed that it does not, including the Third, Seventh, and D.C. Circuit Courts.

The Sixth Circuit has not yet scheduled arguments in the Michigan case.