By Cyril Tuohy
A federal appeals court in Philadelphia has concluded that the accommodation to the contraceptive coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) places “no substantial burden” on religious organizations.
A group of Catholic dioceses, a Christian college and private employers argued that the ACA forces them to “trigger” the insurance coverage provision for contraceptive services, which they oppose on religious grounds.
The accommodation clause, a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, posed a “substantial burden” on their religious experience and would force them to become complicit in enabling abortion, the religious groups had argued.
But Circuit Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, writing for the three-judge panel, found the opposite. The ACA, through its accommodation clause, removes the appellees from providing the services which they find sinful and abhorrent.
“Far from ‘triggering’ the provision of contraceptive coverage to the appellees’ employees and students, EBSA Form 700 totally removes the appellees from providing those services,” Rendell wrote in a 48-page opinion handed down last week.
Under the ACA, organizations are eligible for an “accommodation” to the contraceptive coverage requirement.
Once they indicate that they will not pay for the contraceptive services, coverage for those services are independently provided by an insurance carrier or third-party administrator. Organizations that refuse to cover their employees face fines.
“The ACA already takes into account beliefs like those of the appellees and accommodates them,” the Philadelphia appeals panel found.
The District Court had granted a preliminary injunction to Geneva College in June 2013 preventing the college’s student health insurance plan, its insurance plan broker or its insurance carrier access to abortion-inducting drugs.
In November 2013, in a separate case, the District Court issued a preliminary injunction against the ACA in the cases of two Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses. A month later, the District Court converted the preliminary injunction into a permanent injunction.
Bishop David A. Zubik of the Pittsburgh Diocese and Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of the Erie Diocese, argued that the ACA’s accommodation clause compromised their free exercise of religion because they were required to sign forms facilitating the provision of contraceptive products, services and counseling.
The appeals court consolidated the case of Geneva College, a Christian college in western Pennsylvania, with the cases brought against the ACA by the bishops.
Siding with the Catholic diocese against the ACA were other religious institutions under the jurisdiction of the dioceses, evangelical organizations, Bible societies, ministries, the Seneca Hardwood Lumber Co., WLH Enterprises and right-to-life organizations.
Civil liberties groups, women’s rights groups, reproductive rights advocates and family planning organizations sided with the government.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].
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