Sunday, August 16, 2015

216.2 - Good News: Second Circuit Court of Appeals turns away attempt by religious nonprofits to block employee access to birth control

Good News: Second Circuit Court of Appeals turns away attempt by religious nonprofits to block employee access to birth control

Speaking of birth control, we have good news on a related front but first I have to do a little back-fill.

A few weeks ago, I told you that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Catholic order of nuns called Little Sisters of the Poor, which runs about 30 nursing homes around the country, must comply with the Affordable Care Act.

That law, also called Obamacare, requires most employers other than houses of worship to cover the full range of contraception in their employee health plans at no out-of-pocket cost to the women. However, an exemption was included allowing religiously-based nonprofits to opt out of covering birth control if it is against their beliefs. All they have to do is file a form with the federal government saying so. In those cases, the government directs the third-party insurer to provide the contraception coverage.

The Little Sisters objected to even having to file the form as some great intrusion on their religious freedom. The result would be that not only would the Little Sisters not provide contraceptive coverage, they would actively interfere with their employees' ability to get such coverage by keeping the third-party option from kicking in. They sued. They lost.

The purpose of going over that again was to remind folks of the legal issue involved.

Okay, the good news here is that the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a 2013 district court decision that exempted four Catholic church-affiliated nonprofits from having to file the form involved. In short, just like the Little Sister, they sued, they lost.

Those nonprofits together employ 25,000 people at two high schools, six hospitals, three nursing homes, and several nonprofits.

Just like in the case of the Little Sisters, the court found it necessary to state the obvious:
Through a modicum of paperwork, an eligible organization throws the entire administrative and financial burden of providing contraceptive coverage on its insurer or third-party administrator
we cannot conclude that the simple act of completing the notification form imposes a substantial burden on plaintiffs' religious exercise.
The even better news is that this is now the sixth US Circuit Court that has turned away attempts by church-affiliated organizations to not have to file the form, despite the undeniable impact that failure to file would have on their employees' own rights to act in accordance with their consciences. Four of those cases have been appealed to the Supreme Court, but clearly the trend of legal judgment is running against them. Which is good.

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