WASHINGTON — A federal court of appeals ruled today that religiously affiliated nonprofit employers can’t block their employees’ health care coverage for contraceptives. The ruling finds that the plaintiffs, which include Catholic health care systems and Catholic high schools, are not burdened by having to formally object to covering contraceptives for employees. The ACLU supported the government’s arguments by participating in a friend-of-the-court brief.
“Today’s victory is not only incredibly important for the more than 12,000 employees who stand to gain contraception coverage, but it also sends a clear message that an employer’s religious beliefs can’t be used to deny health care benefits to employees,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “We fight hard to protect religious freedom at the ACLU, but that right doesn’t allow employers to discriminate against their female employees.”
Today’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the religious accommodation in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive rule imposed no substantial burden on the plaintiffs’ religious freedom. The plaintiffs challenged a requirement that employers that object to including contraceptive coverage in their employee’s insurance plans notify their insurers or the government of their objection. The insurer must then arrange and pay for the contraceptive coverage separately.
With the decision today, the Second Circuit joins six other circuits that have found that the accommodation poses no substantial burden on the nonprofits’ religion, including the D.C., Third, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits. No circuit court has ruled the other way.
For more on the ACLU’s friend of the court brief in Catholic Health Care System v. Burwell: