NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said the current healthcare law does not "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" by requiring plans covering women to include contraceptives.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," which took effect in 2010 requires group health plans to provide FDA-approved contraception options, including emergency birth control that can terminate a pregnancy, at no additional cost.
Religious organizations like churches and denominations are exempt, but must certify objections with insurers to receive the exemption. The accommodation lets the religious entity off the hook for paying for contraceptives, but makes the insurer pick up the cost. Essentially, plans still cover contraceptives but simply shift the burden for paying to the insurer.
The legal question before the court is whether the accommodation is a "substantial burden" for religious organizations.
A panel of three judges heard the lawsuit which included as plaintiffs, Priests for Life, a pro-life nonprofit family of ministries for Catholic priests and deacons.
In writing the opinion for the court, Judge Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, an Obama appointee, said the accommodation provided by the federal government offers plaintiffs in the case, a "simple, one-step form for opting out and washing their hands of any involvement in providing insurance coverage for contraceptive services."
In remarks, Nov. 17, Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, said his group will not obey the court's order on the contraceptive mandate.
"To ask a group of priests to cooperate in the government's plan to expand access to birth control and abortion-inducing drugs is about as contrary to religious freedom as you can get," he said.
Pillard's opinion held no surprises.
As a faculty member of the Georgetown University Law Center, she published a paper in 2007 in which she asserted that comprehensive insurance plans that don't cover prescription contraceptives are a "significant form of sex discrimination."
"The lack of a national requirement that insurance plans cover women's contraceptives is emblematic of a much broader failure to make contraceptive access a priority to reduce the extremely high numbers of unintended pregnancies in the United States," she wrote. "The contraceptive equity issue as it relates to health insurance plans is just one facet of a larger set of sex inequalities in the area of reproductive health."
But the U.S. Supreme Court might rule otherwise, if the case makes that court's docket.
In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that "closely held" non-profit corporations, run on religious principles, do not have to provide contraceptive coverage, and the justices declined to compel such companies to avail themselves of the accommodation being forced on other religious non-profits.
The other two judges ruling on the case were Judith Rogers, a Clinton appointee, and another Obama-appointee, Robert Wilkins. The other plaintiffs in the case are the Catholic Archbishop of Washington and the nonprofit Association of Gospel Rescue Missions.