Thursday, June 12, 2014

6th Circuit Upholds ACA Contraceptive Mandate Accommodation For Religious Non-Profits

In Michigan Catholic Conference v. Burwell, (6th Cir., June 11, 2014), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied preliminary injunctions to several Catholic non-profit entities that object to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage accommodation.  The accommodation allows charitable and educational non-profits to opt out of furnishing contraceptive coverage to their employees by completing a form and sending it to their insurer or third party administrator which will then furnishes contraceptive coverage directly. The court rejected arguments by the non-profits that the accommodation rules substantially burden their religious exercise under RFRA.  The court said in part:
appellants appear to ask the court to defer not only to their belief that requesting the exemption or the accommodation makes them complicit in sin, but also to defer to their understanding of how the regulatory measure actually works....  [W]e will independently determine what the regulatory provisions require and whether they impose a substantial burden on appellants’ exercise of religion....
Submitting the self-certification form to the insurance issuer or third-party administrator does not “trigger” contraceptive coverage; it is federal law that requires the insurance issuer or the third-party administrator to provide this coverage.... The government’s imposition of an independent obligation on a third party does not impose a substantial burden on the appellants’ exercise of religion.
The court also rejected plaintiffs' free speech, free exercise and Establishment Clause challenges. Finally the Court rejected plaintiffs' claim that the contraceptive coverage mandate violates the Weldon Amendment designed to allow health care entities to refuse to perform or cover abortions. Plaintiffs contend that certain of the contraceptive methods covered are abortifacients.  The Court refused to defer the plan provider's definition of abortion, saying:
the federal courts will utilize traditional methods of statutory interpretation to determine whether “abortion” in the Weldon Amendment includes FDA-approved emergency contraceptives.
The 6th Circuit also lifted its previously issued stays pending appeal of the lower courts' decisions in the case.  MLive reports on the decision.