Court Rejects Challenge to Contraception Mandate

A federal district court in Indiana has rejected a challenge to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The lawsuit was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows religious individuals and organizations to be exempted from laws that pose a “substantial burden” on their religious freedom unless the government can show that the law is the “least restrictive means” of achieving a “compelling state interest.” You can read the full ruling here.

The crux of the court’s ruling is that the mandate that insurance companies provide a rider for contraception coverage for all people covered by employer health plans even if those health plans do not include such coverage in the group policy does not constitute a substantial burden on the religious freedom of the plaintiffs. The court cited an earlier ruling from a federal court in Missouri in this regard:

[T]he challenged regulations do not demand that plaintiffs alter their behavior in a manner that will directly and inevitably prevent plaintiffs from acting in accordance with their religious beliefs. … [P]laintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using

contraceptives. The burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [the

company’s] plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs’ religion. The Court rejects the proposition that requiring indirect financial support of a practice, from which plaintiff himself

abstains according to his religious principles, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiff’s religious exercise…

RFRA is a shield, not a sword. It protects individuals from substantial burdens on religious exercise that occur when the government coerces action one’s religion forbids, or forbids action one’s religion requires; it is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others. RFRA does not protect against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own.

I expect this to be the standard ruling in the many cases challenging the contraception mandate. The logic is pretty difficult to get around. At the same time, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday issued a ruling that says the exact opposite.

16 comments on this post.
  1. slc1:

    Don’t bet on the SCOTUS upholding this decision.

  2. M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati:

    Since this involves an employer-vs-employee balancing of power, it’s quite possible that the SCOTUS will indeed overrule this in the interest of promoting actual corporate persons over mere labor.

  3. kylawyer:

    Expect this decision to be overturned on Appeal to the 7th Circuit, which covers both the Northern and Southern District Courts.

  4. Rob F:

    If a company’s owners want to pierce the corporate veil and use religious authoritarianism to impact how they offer insurance to their employees, then I might be persuaded to go along with it if they pierce the corporate veil for everything else, such as by getting rid of limited liability. Everything else would be inconsistent (which is why they won’t do it).

  5. Dr X:

    Thing is, the Catholic Church does not actually own the hospitals. Church property is usually titled to the local bishop (corporation sole) unless title is held by a religious order. If a school or a parish church wants to flout the demands of the bishop, the bishop has ultimate control. But since hospitals are not property of the bishop’s office, hospitals can do whatever they wish within the laws governing hospitals. If the bishop doesn’t like it, he can only say that they no longer have church approval.

    Last year, an AZ bishop demanded that Catholic hospitals in his diocese comply with his interpretation of Catholic ethics. A huge hospital system, Catholic Health Care West, refused to comply. The bishop was impotent. All he could do was his shake his magic scepter to withdraw his legally unrecognized approval. The only legal change the hospital system made was to change their name to Dignity Health, but they probably didn’t even have to do that. Organizations have long been using the title Catholic in their names, including churches not associated with the RC Catholic Church, and all of the bishops’ spittle-flecked rants haven’t stopped them. I imagine that the attorneys’ for the hospital suggested the named change to avert any possibility of a legal battle, so they brilliantly picked up one of the Vatican’s favorite words used in the war on contraception: Dignity. Heh.

    Point here is that the bishops have been talking about this as if they are an employer being forced to provide contraception. Among all the reasons that their position is wrong, what I hear addressed least often is that the Catholic Church is not the owner or employer in Catholic hospitals and, under the law, they have no legally recognized authority over these hospitals. They aren’t being forced to do anything. If they don’t like the contraception mandate they can wave their magic wands and the issue is done.

  6. baal:

    The majority (2-1) in Korte v. Sebelius, (7th Cir., Dec. 28, 2012) (the 7th federal court of appeals case linked above) is looney. They ruled that the employer was suffering undue hardship of their right to religious expression and that the employer could suffer while being totally ignorant of that fact. They covered contraception until they brought the case.

  7. eric:

    Dr. X – I expect nobody is addressing your point because its not the main one. There are plenty of corporations whose actual legal owners would object, even if there are some nominally Catholic hospital boards who wouldn’t. People on both sides of this issue want to know what the courts say should happen when the legal owner/employer of the corporation objects to this coverage. They are not all that interested in the question of whether the RCC is the real legal owner of property ABC.
    .
    If a conservative court upholds a corporate right to prevent employee contraception coverage via the health insurance provider, then I guess liberals could use your point as a legal loophole. A work-around. But ‘who is the legal owner’ is not really the question being argued in these court cases.

  8. John Hinkle:

    RFRA is a shield, not a sword. … it is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others.

    What?!? But… judicial activism! Legislating from the bench! Overthrowing the will of the majority! Liberal! Secular bad stuff! First Amendment rights! Not freedom from religion, freedom of religion! Judayo-Christian moral foundations! The Founders! More stuff besides the point! More irrelevant stuff! And… the children!

  9. Modusoperandi:

    First, we overthrow this UnConstitutional Mandate, as an overreach of Small Government values, then we get Big Government to print up money with “Not valid for ladyparts” printed on it, because First Amendment something wages something whoring something Liberty!

  10. tuxedocartman:

    @Modusoperandi #9: Clearly this would solve the “problem” of birth control, abortions, and Pap smears plaguing this sinful, degenerate country… but what about simple, innocent blue-collar men who want nothing more after a hard day of providing for their families, than to solicited the services of a prostitute? If cash is no longer legal tender for tender bits, will these poor souls be reduced to bartering blankets for nookie?

  11. Modusoperandi:

    tuxedocartman, men should go home to their wives and come unto them, as God intended. Wives can still, for the moment, spend the stippend the husband gives them on girlpills for their hoo-hoos and ta-tas and whatever else they’ve got. It’s only other women who are whores.

  12. tuxedocartman:

    Ohhhh…. thanks for the clarification! The fact that those last two comments of ours could be read seriously by some people, really makes me hate this country at times.

  13. Modusoperandi:

    tuxedocartman, you mean you’re not serious? I knew something was off with you when you exposed your politically-correct pottymouth with words like “pr*stitutes”(*1). You’re probably a liberal or Unitarian.
     
    *1. Edited for biblical-valueness. The correct word is “whores” (pronounced “Hooo-wers”) or “harlots”(*2).
    *2. KJV only, as God intended. And not one of those newfangled “updated” KJVs, either!

  14. bradleybetts:

    “[P]laintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives.”

    “…and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives.”

    I don’t like that last bit. They are clearly going to interpret that as grounds for sticking pro-life posters up in the staff canteen. Maybe even as grounds for an appeal. Otherwise, good on the judges, I totally agree.

  15. bradleybetts:

    Agh; sorry, I’m tired and missed something important from my last: there’s nothing in their damn religion which says they have to discourage others from using contraception, just not use it themselves. So how can discouraging others from being sensible constitute excercising their religion?

  16. bradleybetts:

    @John Hinckle

    ROFL Big ol’ +1 for you, sir!

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