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The First Contraceptive Rule Case to Reach an Appeals Court on the Merits

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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January 4, 2013

Yesterday the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the first challenge to the federal contraceptive rule to reach an appeals court on the merits. The federal contraceptive rule requires health plans to cover contraception without a co-pay, and despite the plethora of lawsuits, the rule is clearly constitutional.

Yesterday’s case was brought by a mining company in Missouri, which for years has been providing contraceptive coverage to its employees. The company’s owner, however, objected to the contraceptive rule claiming that it imposed a substantial burden on his religious beliefs.

The district court disagreed, and held that the company owner’s religious practices were not substantially burdened. The judge held that by providing health insurance to his employees, the company’s owner was only providing “indirect financial support” of someone else’s possible behavior. In other words, he was simply providing a benefit to his employees – like salary – that some may choose to use to obtain contraception. But this cannot rise to the level of a substantial burden on the company owner’s religious beliefs. Importantly, the court also recognized that religious liberty claims cannot be used as a “means to force one’s religious practices upon others.” Here, that would mean denying women equal benefits. The court said that the law does not protect “against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own.”

The brief we filed yesterday urges the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm the district court’s decision. We filed the brief on our behalf, as well the Anti-Defamation League; Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America; the Interfaith Alliance Foundation; the National Council of Jewish Women; the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; the Unitarian Universalist Association; and the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation.

We hope that the Eighth Circuit will affirm the district court’s decision.

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