- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday against a group of Catholic nuns who objected to Obamacare’s birth control mandate, finding the Obama administration’s efforts to accommodate religious organizations’ objections are sufficient.

The loss for the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged disappointed religious freedom advocates who had viewed the case as their last best shot to force another showdown in the Supreme Court over the Affordable Care Act.

“The departments have made opting out of the mandate at least as easy as obtaining a parade permit, filing a simple tax form, or registering to vote — in other words, a routine, brief administrative task,” wrote Judge Scott Matheson Jr., an Obama appointee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver

The 10th circuit is the fifth appellate court to reject religious nonprofits’ challenge to the Obama administration policy.

Under that policy, faith-based universities and charities notify either their insurers or the federal government of their objection to providing contraception, and the insurers or plan administrators would then step in and make sure employees can get contraception without the religious charity having to pay for it.

The Little Sisters, however, had argued that even certifying their objections made them complicit in the chain of events that insured types of contraception they find sinful, including morning-after pills that Catholic groups equate with abortion. They said they’re being forced to either violate their faith and comply, or flout the mandate and pay fines that could reach $2.5 million per facility.

The contraception mandate is a 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. Pitched as a boon for women’s health, the rules quickly spawned controversy, with dozens of religious nonprofits and devout business owners filing suit.

Family-owned for-profit corporations were victorious before the Supreme Court last year, forcing HHS to draft an accommodation for them. Those rules, finalized Friday, grant closely held corporations the same type of opt-out clause that HHS offered nonprofits.

Nonprofits, though, thought they should be treated differently, asking for the same blanket exemption from the mandate that churches, synagogues and other houses of worship enjoy.

“It is a national embarrassment that the world’s most powerful government insists that, instead of providing contraceptives through its own existing exchanges and programs, it must crush the Little Sisters’ faith and force them to participate,” the Little Sisters’ attorney, Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said Tuesday.

The case before the 10th circuit involved the nuns’ group in Colorado and several Christian colleges from Oklahoma.

Other appeals courts have turned back cases from Notre Dame University in Indiana, Wheaton College of Illinois, Baptist colleges in Texas and Priests for Life, an anti-abortion ministry.

Nonprofits and their backers hope the Supreme Court will take up their case, though the justices usually look for a split between lower appeals courts before accepting a case.

That kind of split helped a previous challenge reach the court last year, when the Hobby Lobby crafts chain and other for-profit entities won their case. In a 5-4 ruling, the justices said the administration broke a 1993 law by forcing closely held corporations to pay for forms of birth control they object to on moral grounds.

The justices ordered circuits to reexamine the nonprofit cases in line with that ruling. The appellate judges, though, found that the nonprofits already had an opt-out by notifying the government of their objections.

Holly Lynch, a bioethics expert at Harvard Law School who closely tracks the debate, said the religious charities were asking for too much from the judges.

“This might be a good example of the administration giving religious groups an inch (or more) and them trying to take a mile,” she said in an email. “I do think it is critically important to accommodate religious believers whenever possible, and here the administration has jumped through hoops to do exactly that.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide