Government & Economic Development and Government

Circuit court blocks Obamacare ‘contraception mandate’

November 11, 2013
Roman Catholic employers – including the owners of an Indiana company – won a Circuit Court ruling Friday blocking the “contraception mandate” contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.

A split panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, reaffirmed its earlier preliminary injuction in one of the farthest-reaching rulings on an issue that has divided federal circuits and almost certainly will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Friday’s order grants an injunction against enforcement of the mandate that requires employers to provide universal access to birth control.

The panel’s consolidated ruling was granted in two cases, William D. Grote III et al, v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al, and Cyril B. Korte et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al.

Grote Industries, a Madison-based maker of vehicle safety systems, successfully claimed that requiring the company to provide contraception coverage through its self-insured health care plan violated its owners’ First Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

“The plaintiffs are not asking the government to pay for anything. They are asking for relief from a regulatory mandate that coerces them to pay for something – insurance coverage for contraception – on the sincere conviction that doing so violates their religion,” Circuit Judge Diane Sykes wrote in the majority opinion joined by Judge Joel Flaum. “They have made a strong case that RFRA entitles them to that relief.”

Judge Ilana Rovner dissented, writing that the majority’s overreach hypothetically could prevent employees from obtaining embryonic stem-cell therapy; allow Christian Scientist business owners to severely restrict access to medical care based on their beliefs; or deny coverage to same-sex couples even in states that permit such unions if the corporation’s owners have a religious objection to same-sex marriage. She warned the ruling could open a host of federal regulation to challenges based on the religious beliefs of corporate owners.

Rovner wrote that the majority’s holding “represents a dramatic turn in free exercise jurisprudence” and “bestows a highly personal right to religious exercise on two secular, for-profit corporations that have no facility of thought, conscience or belief. It deems the religious rights of the plaintiffs burdened by the contraception mandate without consideration of the indirect and minimal intrusion on their exercise of religion. And it disregards the extent to which the exemption from the mandate burdens the rights of the plaintiffs’ employees.”

The 7th Circuit majority noted its opinion aligns with a majority holding from the 10th Circuit, but that the 3rd Circuit has ruled in a similar case that “a for-profit, secular corporation cannot engage in the exercise of religion” and its owners have no claim against the contraception mandate.

A Federal Circuit ruling held that for-profit corporations may not challenge the law on religious grounds, but that companies organized differently with individual owners may.

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