ACA contraception rules in high court showdown
The nation’s highest court this week hears the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, this time from employers claiming its mandates violate religious freedom.
The Justice Department’s top litigator, Donald Verrilli Jr., will defend ACA rules requiring private firms’ insurance plans to cover all forms of contraception. Lawyers representing the firms in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius say those rules violate their religious beliefs. They consider several birthcontrol methods to be forms of abortion, including the morning-after pill and intrauterine devices.
“Can the government force entities or individuals to take actions that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs?” says a friend-of-the-court brief from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the answer is clearly no.”
Attorneys for the Justice Department will argue the religious freedom law doesn’t allow companies to deny employees their rights under the ACA. “Respondents insist that the health, dignity and liberty interests of the corporate respondents’ own 13,000 employees—who may not share respondents’ beliefs — ‘should be irrelevant,’” Verrilli’s attorneys wrote. “To the contrary, when a party seeks a religious exemption from a neutral law, the potential impact on third parties is at the very core of the analysis.”
A related series of cases that may also reach the Supreme Court asks whether religiously affiliated not-forprofits, like Catholic nursing homes and hospitals, can be forced to sign forms opting out of the contraception-coverage rules. About one-sixth of hospital beds in America are housed in Catholic-owned facilities.
In another challenge to the ACA, judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday will hear arguments in the fast-tracked appeal of Halbig v. Sebelius, where critics claimed a poorly drafted section of the law meant people living in the 36 states using the federally run exchange were not eligible for subsidies. So far, two lower-court federal judges sided with the Internal Revenue Service, which administers the ACA subsidy program.