A D.C.-based federal appeals court ruled Friday a mandate in the new health care law that requires two Catholic brothers in Ohio to insure birth control for their employees violates their religious freedoms — the latest in a string of legal opinions that are driving a controversial section of the Obamacare debate toward a hearing before the Supreme Court.
In a decision that divided the panel of judges, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Francis and Phillip Gilardi, owners of Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics, who found themselves on “the horns of an impossible dilemma” before deciding to sue over the mandate tied to the Affordable Care Act, the opinion said.
Dozens of for-profit companies have sued over the Obama administration’s rule, saying they must choose between dropping health coverage for their employees and violating their beliefs that contraceptives, particularly the morning-after pill, are morally wrong.
The decision marks the fourth time a federal appeals court has ruled on the issue, resulting in a two-to-two split — an indication the Supreme Court will likely step in to decide the matter once and for all.
In their written opinion, judges on the D.C. Circuit noted it was not the first time they had taken on issues related “the behemoth known as the Affordable Care Act.”
“This time, however, we are not confronted with a question of constitutional authority,” the judges wrote. “Instead, we must determine whether the contraceptive mandate imposed by the Act trammels the right of free exercise — a right that lies at the core of our constitutional liberties — as protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. We conclude it does.”