Sixth Circuit Rejects Challenge to ACA Birth Control Benefit
In a unanimous decision, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) birth control coverage benefit does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) or the First Amendment, upholding two lower courts' denial of a preliminary injunction against the law to a group of Catholic-affiliated non-profit entities.
The ACA requires health insurance providers to cover preventive health services - including all FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs - without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempted from the requirement. Certain non-profits, who object to contraception on religious grounds, can obtain an accommodation that would allow these groups not to provide contraceptives to their employees. In that case, if the non-profit has an employer-provided group health insurance plan, then the employer would submit a certification to the insurance issuer. The issuer would then have to provide contraceptive coverage. If the non-profit employer has a self-insured plan, one that relies on employer-contributions without outside insurance contributions, then the employer would contract with a third-party administrator who would pay for and process claims for contraceptive services.
The non-profit groups in the case argued that the process to obtain the exemption or the accommodation unduly interfered with their religious beliefs and burdened their exercise of religion, violating both RFRA and the First Amendment.
The Sixth Circuit rejected these arguments, finding that the ACA did not substantially burden the religious exercise of any group eligible for either the exemption or the accommodation. The court noted that the law was specifically crafted so that these groups would not be required to "provide" contraceptives to anyone, to "pay for" contraceptive coverage, or to "facilitate" access to contraceptives.
A majority of Americans support full coverage of birth control as a preventive service. As many as 88% of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used birth control pills, injectables, the contraceptive patch, or IUDs at some point in their lives, and at least 14% of women using the pill are doing so to treat painful conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or severe cramps, and studies have shown that the pill reduces the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancers. Birth control is basic health care for women.
Media Resources: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; National Women's Law Center; Feminist Majority Foundation 11/26/13
10/30/2014 Medication Abortion Access Threatened by Oklahoma Court Ruling - An Oklahoma state district court judge has refused to block a state law restricting medication abortion, clearing the way for the law to go into affect on November 1.
The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, together with a local abortion clinic in Tulsa, challenged HB 2684 in September, arguing that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. . . .
10/30/2014 UPS Switches Pregnant Worker Policy Ahead of Supreme Court Case - The United Parcel Service (UPS) is changing its policy on light duty assignments for pregnant workers, even though the company will stand by its refusal to extend accommodations to a former employee in an upcoming Supreme Court case.
UPS announced on Monday in a memo to employees, and in a brief filed with the US Supreme Court, that the company will begin offering temporary, light-duty positions to pregnant workers on January 1, 2015. . . .
10/30/2014 North Dakota Medical Students Speak Out Against Measure 1 - Medical students at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences are asking North Dakotans to vote no on Measure 1, a personhood measure on the state ballot this fall.
The students issued published a letter in the Grand Forks Herald stating that they opposed Measure 1 in part because they are against "the government's taking control of the personal health care decisions of its citizens." Nearly 60 UND School of Medicine students signed the letter, citing concerns over the "very broad and ambiguous language" used in the proposed amendment, which has no regard for serious and life-threatening medical situations such as ectopic pregnancies.
Measure 1 would change the North Dakota state constitution to create an "inalienable right to life" for humans "at any stage of development" - including the moment of fertilization and conception. . . .