Jan. 1 (Bloomberg) -- An Obamacare requirement that employers provide free contraceptive coverage must be halted temporarily for Washington-based Catholic institutions involved in a legal challenge to the rule, a federal appeals court said.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, in a 2-1 ruling, yesterday granted a request by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington and the Catholic University of America among other plaintiffs for an order barring the federal government from imposing the contraceptive services requirement on them while they appeal a lower-court ruling they lost.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 26 agreed to hear two cases brought by business owners who object on religious grounds to the birth-control mandate. The lawsuits by the for-profit employers, the craft store chain Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., will be the court’s first look at President Barack Obama’s biggest legislative accomplishment since a majority of the justices upheld the core of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2012.
U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson in Washington on Dec. 20 rejected arguments by the Washington archbishop and the archdiocese’s schools that the requirement to provide cost-free coverage for contraceptive services violates religious freedom.
In his opposition to granting the archbishop’s request, Circuit Judge David S. Tatel wrote in a dissent yesterday that the archbishop is unlikely to prevail in the appeal. Like Jackson, Tatel said changes to the law have alleviated the burden that the mandate imposes on religious organizations. The church-related plaintiffs argue that availing themselves of a process to self-certify their religious objections forces them to help make birth control available.
“Simply put, far from imposing a substantial burden” on religious freedom, the challenged provision allows the archbishop and the other Catholic entities “to avoid having to do something that would substantially burden their religious freedom,” Tatel said.
Previously, appeals courts in Chicago, Denver and Washington ruled the contraceptive mandate may violate religious freedom, while appellate panels in Philadelphia and Cincinnati had sided with the government.
Tatel was appointed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, while the other judges on the panel that granted yesterday’s order, Karen Henderson and Janice Rogers Brown, were nominated, respectively, by George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, both Republicans. Jackson was named to the bench by Obama, a Democrat.
The cases are Priests for Life v. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13-05368, and Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Sebelius, 13-05371, U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia (Washington).
--Editors: Peter Blumberg, Fred Strasser