The Supreme Court agreed to hear the challenges of seven religious non-profits against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) contraceptive mandate. The challenges seek a decision from the Supreme Court overturning the ACA requirement that non-profit groups take action to opt out of the mandate, allowing them to benefit from the blanket exclusion granted to churches and other religious institutions.
Contraceptive mandate before the Supreme Court
This will mark the second time in three years that the contraceptive mandate has come before the Supreme Court. In June 2014, the Court held in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that HHS regulations requiring employer-sponsored health plans to include FDA-approved contraceptives among the preventive services covered without cost sharing could not be applied to for-profit corporations with religious objections to some of the contraceptive methods (see Closely-held ‘corporate Christians’ win crusade against contraceptive coverage, July 2, 2014). The Court reasoned that the regulations violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) (42 U.S.C. § 2000bb), which requires federal government requirements substantially burdening religious freedom to serve a compelling interest and be the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
Non-profits object to accommodation process
The non-profit organizations in this challenge seek a ruling that would allow them to be exempt from the requirement to provide objectionable contraceptive coverage without having to undertake the accommodation process, which requires the filing of additional paperwork stating the organizations’ objection to the provision of contraceptives. The accommodation itself, the organizations argue, is a substantial burden on their religious exercise.
The following seven cases, originating in the Third, Fifth, Tenth, and District of Columbia Circuits, will be consolidated for hearing before the Court:
- Zubik v. Burwell (see Catholics stay clean: form submission ‘washes their hands’ of involvement with contraceptive coverage, Health Reform WK-EDGE, February 18, 2015);
- Priests for Life v. HHS (see ‘Minimal paperwork’ fails to meet substantial burden test for contraceptive coverage, Health Reform WK-EDGE, November 19, 2014);
- Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Burwell (see ‘Minimal paperwork’ fails to meet substantial burden test for contraceptive coverage, Health Reform WK-EDGE, November 19, 2014);
- East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell (see Mandate withstands religious challenge, providing contraceptives has “nothing to do with it,” Health Reform WK-EDGE, June 22, 2015);
- The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, Denver, Colorado v. Burwell (see Prayers for injunctions go unanswered in appellate review of contraceptive accommodation, Health Reform WK-EDGE, July 15, 2015);
- Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell (see Prayers for injunctions go unanswered in appellate review of contraceptive accommodation, Health Reform WK-EDGE, July 15, 2015); and
- Geneva College v. Burwell (see Catholics stay clean: form submission ‘washes their hands’ of involvement with contraceptive coverage, Health Reform WK-EDGE, February 18, 2015).
While several of these cases were consolidated at the appellate court level, all seven filed separate petitions for writ of certiorari. The Court will rule on whether the mandate and the accommodation violate RFRA but refused specifically to hear claims under RFRA and the First Amendment that the government discriminated among those allowed an exemption and those not.