Religious Groups Win Appeal Over Contraception Mandate Opt-Out

By and Janan Hanna | September 17, 2015

Religious groups needn’t comply with the Affordable Care Act mandate to provide workers with health insurance that covers contraception and can’t be forced to tell the government when they don’t, a federal appeals court said.

Ruling Thursday in two cases, the St. Louis-based appellate panel agreed with groups that said the birth-control requirement burdens their right to free exercise of religion. The court also rejected a provision in the law that says religious nonprofits won’t be penalized as long as they notify their group health plan or the government of their decision to opt out of providing birth-control coverage to employees.

The rulings depart from a July decision by the federal appeals court in Denver. It held that religious nonprofits must formally opt out of the contraception coverage mandate. Other courts have ruled along the same lines.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to take up the dispute in the term beginning next month. A conflict among appellate courts increases the chances the justices will accept the case. Opponents of the mandate, and the opt-out provision, have cited an earlier ruling by the high court that private, for-profit companies can refuse on religious grounds to offer birth-control coverage to workers.

The cases are Sharpe Holdings Inc. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 14-1507, and Dordt College v. Burwell, 14-2726, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (St. Louis).

–With assistance from Greg Stohr in Washington.

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