News Law and Policy

New York Catholic Groups Win Injunction Against Contraception Mandate

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A federal judge ruled Monday the Obama administration's accommodation for religiously-affiliated employers did not go far enough in protecting religious liberties.

On Monday, a federal judge ruled that an assortment of New York Catholic institutions do not have to comply with the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act, holding the accommodation for religiously affiliated nonprofit entities was not enough to protect religious liberties.

The decision is the second in the flurry of litigation filed by religious nonprofits challenging the mandate and came in a case filed by Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, Monsignor Farrell High School in Staten Island, Catholic Health Services of Long Island, a group of nonprofits providing health care to the poor and disabled, and a group that oversees six hospitals, three nursing homes, and a hospice. The plaintiffs had filed suit last year once the accommodation for religiously affiliated employers was finalized, arguing that the law’s requirement they fill out a form to self-certify their institution should be exempt from the law’s coverage requirement was itself too much of a burden on their religious beliefs because it forces them to be complicit in a “scheme” to arrange a third party to provide services with which they fundamentally disagree.

According to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, the religious nonprofit plaintiffs “demonstrated that the mandate, despite accommodation, compels them to perform acts that are contrary to their religion,” Cogan wrote. “And there can be no doubt that the coercive pressure here is substantial.”

Judge Cogan dismissed arguments made by the Obama administration that the law’s requirement that some employers offer insurance coverage for contraception at no additional cost to their employees was not a substantial burden on the plaintiffs’ religion, holding it was “not for this Court to say otherwise” if it was. “They [the plaintiffs] consider this to be an endorsement of such coverage; to them, the self-certification compels affirmation of a repugnant belief.”

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The decision affects more than 25,000 employees and is the latest in a wave of lawsuits challenging the requirement that is already before the United States Supreme Court. Just last month the Roberts Court agreed to hear two cases involving challenges to the birth control benefit on religious freedom grounds brought by secular, for-profit corporations.

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