Re­li­gious ex­emp­tion gives faith groups a Oba­macare vic­tory

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

A fed­eral ap­peals court last week ruled in fa­vor of faith-based non­prof­its who fought Oba­macare’s birth con­trol rules, deal­ing an elu­sive vic­tory to re­li­gious em­ploy­ers who now have a stronger hand in urg­ing the Supreme Court to shield them from the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “con­tra­cep­tion man­date.”

In a pair of opin­ions, the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Eighth Cir­cuit sided with re­li­gious univer­si­ties and min­istries that ob­ject to in­sur­ing con­tra­cep­tives they equate with abor­tion and feel that opt-out routes pro­vided by the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices keep them com­plicit in sin.

The rul­ings up­held a lower court’s find­ing and marked a sig­nif­i­cant break from other cir­cuit rul­ings that said HHS’s ef­forts to ac­com­mo­date the groups were suf­fi­cient.

Un­der HHS rules, re­li­gious em­ploy­ers who ob­ject to cov­er­ing birth con­trol must no­tify an in­surer, plan ad­min­is­tra­tor or the gov­ern­ment in writ­ing so that a third party can man­age and pay for the cov­er­age.

“If one equates the self-cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process with, say, that of ob­tain­ing a pa­rade per­mit, then in­deed the bur­den might well be con­sid­ered light. But if one sin­cerely be­lieves that com­plet­ing [the opt-out form] or HHS No­tice will re­sult in con­science-vi­o­lat­ing con­se­quences, what some might con­sider an oth­er­wise neu­tral act is a bur­den too heavy to bear,” wrote Judge Roger L. Woll­man, an ap­pointee of Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan, joined by judges Wil­liam D. Ben­ton and Steven M. Col­lo­ton, both ap­pointees of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

The con­tra­cep­tion man­date is an out­growth of the Af­ford­able Care Act of 2010 that re­quires em­ploy­ers to cover 20 types of FDA-ap­proved drugs and ser­vices as part of their health plans or else pay hefty fines. Pitched as a boon for women’s health, the rules quickly spawned con­tro­versy, with dozens of re­li­gious non­prof­its and de­vout busi­ness own­ers fil­ing suit.

Many Catholic em­ploy­ers ob­ject to all forms of con­tra­cep­tion, while evan­gel­i­cal groups and oth­ers say they’re only op­posed to morn­ing-af­ter pills they equate with abor­tion.

Fam­ily owned for-prof­its were vic­to­ri­ous be­fore the Supreme Court last year, forc­ing HHS to draft an ac­com­mo­da­tion for them.

The same rules that HHS drafted for re­li­gious non­prof­its now ap­ply to the closely held com­pa­nies, although they must meet cer­tain stan­dards.

Plain­tiffs on the non­profit side are not sat­is­fied though. They want the same blan­ket ex­emp­tion from the man­date that houses of wor­ship en­joy.

Sev­eral faith-based non­prof­its have asked the jus­tices to take up their case in the com­ing term.

With a cir­cuit split in hand, they’ve got a much bet­ter shot at grab­bing the court’s at­ten­tion.

“The gov­ern­ment keeps telling the Supreme Court ‘Move along, noth­ing im­por­tant here’ in hopes that the court will ig­nore this cru­cial is­sue. But with to­day’s de­ci­sions, the court will have great rea­son to de­cide this is­sue in the next term,” said Lori Wind­ham, se­nior coun­sel of the Becket Fund for Re­li­gious Lib­erty.

The Eighth Cir­cuit cited the jus­tices’ hold­ing in the for-profit case, known as “Hobby Lobby,” that en­forc­ing the man­date vi­o­lated the Re­li­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act — a bi­par­ti­san 1993 law that says the gov­ern­ment had to have a com­pelling in­ter­est in car­ry­ing out a law that sub­stan­tially bur­dens a per­son’s re­li­gious be­liefs, and must do so in the least re­stric­tive way pos­si­ble.

Un­like other cir­cuits, the panel said the HHS ac­com­mo­da­tion pre­sented a sub­stan­tial bur­den on faith-based non­prof­its.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.