Sep 20, 2013
Sep 20, 2013
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, along with several affiliated schools and charities including the Catholic University of America and Thomas Aquinas College, filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration challenging the birth control benefit. The birth control benefit is the provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires certain providers of group health insurance plans to cover contraception without charging a co-pay.
Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the process established by the Obama administration for accommodating religious objections to the birth control benefit in the ACA violates their religious exercise under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The accommodation permits religious nonprofits to self-certify their eligibility for an exemption from the birth control benefit by notifying either their insurance company or the federal government that they object to contraceptive coverage on religious grounds.
Plaintiffs allege that this self-certification process violates their religious rights because it “triggers” the provision of contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds. They further allege that the paperwork the government requires them to fill out that states their eligibility for a religious exemption from the birth control benefit is, in and of itself, an infringement on their religious freedom in violation of RFRA.
After the district court ruled against them on key claims, plaintiffs appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which consolidated the case with Priests for Life v. Department of Health and Human Services, another case involving similar claims.
On November 14, 2014, a D.C. Circuit panel rejected plaintiffs’ RFRA claim, reasoning that the accommodation does not impose a substantial burden on plaintiff’s religious exercise, that the regulations advance compelling government interests, and that the accommodation is the least restrictive means for advancing those interests. The court also rejected plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims.
Plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear oral arguments on March 23, 2016. The case has been consolidated with six other cases: (1) Zubik v. Burwell; (2) East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell; (3) Priests for Life v. HHS; (4) Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell; (5) Geneva College v. Burwell; and (6) Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.
**last updated March 17, 2016