Washington Markup

Another One Bites the Dust: Second Challenge to Birth Control Rule Rejected in One Week

By Sarah Lipton-Lubet, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 6:01pm

Courts are making fast work this week of the lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s rule requiring insurance plans to cover contraception and stop discriminating against women.

Just one day after a federal court in Nebraska threw out a lawsuit brought by seven anti-Affordable Care Act attorneys general, a federal court in D.C. did the same in a case filed by a religiously affiliated college.  On Wednesday, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by Belmont Abbey College (the first of the two dozen challenges to the birth control rule). 

This isn’t the first time that Belmont Abbey College has thumbed its nose at federal laws designed to stop discrimination against women in health care.  In 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that the College was discriminating against its employees based on their gender because it withheld coverage for prescription birth control, which only women use, while providing insurance coverage for other prescription drugs.  But as far as we know, the college is still resisting the EEOC’s decision and has yet to come into compliance.  So it came as no surprise when it challenged the administration’s contraception rule, despite the fact that the rule is on solid legal footing, while the college’s claims are bogus.

Reaching a similar conclusion to the Nebraska court, the D.C. court held that Belmont Abbey’s claims are simply “too speculative” for a lawsuit.  In addition to the exemption for churches and other houses of worship, which has always been part of the contraception rule, the Obama administration is currently in the process of figuring out how to modify the rule for a broader swath of non-profits.  The goal of this modification is to allow certain nonprofit organizations with a religious objection to contraception to avoid contributing to insurance coverage for it, while at the same time ensuring that the organizations’ employees still have seamless access to such coverage.  This modification certainly isn’t necessary, either legally or as a policy matter, but it does mean that the details of the final rule are up in the air, so the case doesn’t belong in court.

The New York Times recently pointed this out, noting that institutions opposed to birth control coverage “have heedlessly rushed into court to try to stop an important advance for women’s health.”  In other words, these cases are motivated by a zeal to stop women from getting coverage for this critical health care service, and to feed a media storm.  They’re not about religious liberty, but rather whether a woman should have insurance coverage for birth control; coverage that she can then decide what to do with, based on her own beliefs and health needs.  Opponents seem ready to stop at nothing to make sure the answer is no. Good thing for women that so far, the courts aren’t having any of it.

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