News Law and Policy

Obamacare’s Birth Control Benefit Notches Another Legal Win

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider an earlier decision that ruled the process for accommodating religious objections to the birth control benefit of the Affordable Care Act did not burden the group's rights.

Religiously affiliated nonprofits challenging the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit lost another legal battle this week as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to rehear claims by Priests for Life charging the opt-out process unduly burdened their religious rights.

Priests for Life had asked the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to review a ruling that the birth control benefit’s accommodation process did not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law designed to shield certain conduct from regulatory overreach.

Judge Nina Pillard authored the November decision that unanimously upheld the accommodation. She wrote for the majority Wednesday in rejecting, again, claims by Priests for Life that the accommodation was unduly burdensome.

“Indeed, it bears emphasis that the whole point of the challenged regulation is to scrupulously shield objecting religious nonprofits from any role in making contraception available to women,” Pillard wrote. “The accommodation is itself evidence of the fundamental commitment of this Nation to religious freedom that RFRA embodies.”

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This is the second loss this week for religious conservatives challenging the accommodation process to the ACA’s birth control benefit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Tuesday rejected identical claims by the University of Notre Dame.

The Obama administration on Thursday notified the Roberts Court of its victories in a letter submitted by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr.

In the one-page letter, the administration notes the decisions are the first from appeals courts to analyze the accommodation process in light of the Court’s ruling last summer in Hobby Lobby. The letter was filed in connection with Zubik v. Burwell, a case from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the accommodation process.

In that case, the Third Circuit rejected the claims from a religiously-affiliated nonprofit that the accommodation violated RFRA. Justice Samuel Alito in April put the Third Circuit decision on hold until the Department of Justice had replied to requests that the Supreme Court intervene in Zubik or until further order from the Court.

So far the Roberts Court has taken no action in Zubik since the April order.

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