Saturday, November 17, 2012

Court Enjoins Requiring Christian Publisher To Cover Contraceptives Seen As Abortifacients In Health Care Plan

In Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. v. Sebelius, (D DC, Nov. 16, 2012), the federal district court for the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction  barring the federal government from enforcing a portion of the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate against a company that publishes Bibles and other Christian books. The court held that plaintiffs would likely succeed on the merits of showing that their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would be infringed by requiring their health plans to cover contraceptive methods that the company and its owners consider abortifacients-- Plan B, ella and intrauterine devices.

The court held, first, that the publishing company has standing::
when the beliefs of a closely-held corporation and its owners are inseparable, the corporation should be deemed the alter-ego of its owners for religious purposes…. Tyndale [also]  has standing to assert its owners’ free exercise rights under the third-party standing doctrine….
Turning to the substance of plaintiffs’ claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the court concluded that the contraceptive coverage mandates substantially burdens plaintiffs’ free exercise rights:
Because it is the coverage, not just the use, of the contraceptives at issue to which the plaintiffs object, it is irrelevant that the use of the contraceptives depends on the independent decisions of third parties.  And even if this burden could be characterized as “indirect,” the Supreme Court has indicated that indirectness is not a barrier to finding a substantial burden….
The government argued that even if there was a substantial burden, it had a compelling interest in preventing the health problems associated with unintended pregnancies. The court held, however, that since plaintiffs object only to a limited number of contraceptives, and will still provide many others, it is not clear how excluding that limited number will interfere with the government's interest.  It also pointed out that other exemptions in the law exclude 191 million employees from coverage by the mandate.

Alliance Defending Freedom issued a press release announcing the decision, and the Washington Post reported on the decision.