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Priests for Life v. Department of Health and Human Services

Priests for Life, a Catholic anti-choice organization, filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration challenging the birth control benefit, which is the provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires certain providers of group health insurance plans to cover contraception without charging a co-pay.

Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the process established by the Obama administration for accommodating religious objections to the birth control benefit violates their religious exercise under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The accommodation permits religious nonprofits to self-certify their eligibility for an exemption from the birth control benefit by notifying either their insurance company or the federal government that they object to contraceptive coverage on religious grounds.

Plaintiffs allege that this self-certification process violates their religious rights because it “triggers” the provision of contraceptive coverage for staff and students by a third party. They further allege that the paperwork the government requires them to fill out that states their eligibility for a religious exemption from the birth control benefit is, in and of itself, an infringement on their religious freedom in violation of RFRA.


On December 19, 2013, the district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss, prompting an appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which consolidated the case with Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Burwell.

On November 14, 2014, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling dismissing the case, reasoning that the accommodation does not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise, the regulations advance compelling government interests, and that the regulations are the least restrictive means for advancing those interests.

Plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear oral arguments on March 23, 2016. This case has been consolidated with six other cases: (1) Zubik v. Burwell; (2) Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Burwell; (3) Geneva College v. Burwell; (4) Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell; (5) East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell; and (6) Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.

On May 16, the Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion, vacating decisions below and remanding for further proceedings. After the Supreme Court’ decision, Priests for Life settled with the government; the government agreed not to enforce the birth control benefit against Priests for Life. The case is now closed.


**last updated September 11, 2018