Supreme Court To Hear Another Challenge To Affordable Care Act Contraception Rules

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear its fourth challenge to the five-year-old Affordable Care Act — and the second challenge involving the law’s requirement that employers provide insurance that includes coverage for female workers who choose to use birth control.

In creating the ACA, the Obama administration in an exception to the contraceptive mandate for strictly religious organizations like churches, but not for church-affiliated non-profit institutions like schools or hospitals.

Then in the wake of the 2014 Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, in which SCOTUS ruled that there needed to be a way to exempt the owners of closely held private companies who oppose the use of birth control, the administration created a process through which the federal government would take over responsibility for paying for the contraceptive coverage.

The idea was that, by having the government pay for any birth control, the employers were not in any way responsible for financing something to which they object. But eight different religious non-profit organizations — including Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma, Geneva College in Pennsylvania, and the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged — challenged this compromise in federal court, claiming, among other things, that the arrangement still made them complicit in their employees’ use of birth control.

Seven of these challenges failed to convince U.S. appeals courts, but in September the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Missouri sided with the non-profit groups.

This morning, SCOTUS agreed [PDF] to hear at least part of each of the remaining seven challenges, which will be consolidated when the court hears arguments in March 2016.

The groups allege that even the compromise violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which states that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except… if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

As ScotusBlog notes, the Little Sisters case will also look at the question of whether or not the group — a Catholic religious order of nuns that also runs homes for the elderly — is required to obey the contraceptive mandate even though its insurer would not take part because it has an exempt “church plan.”

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