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Contraceptive Coverage Mandate Subject of New Court Cases

Contraceptive Coverage Mandate Subject of New Court Cases


Two court cases decided in opposite ways may give the Supreme Court a headache when trying to decide whether the contraceptive coverage mandate in Obamacare will pass constitutional muster.

In the first case, decided earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton of Illinois's Northern District granted a preliminary injunction requested by a Bible publisher against the contraceptive mandate provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The contraceptive mandate requires employers to provide coverage for contraceptives free of cost to their employees.  Contraceptives included under the ACA's contraception mandate include everything from oral contraceptives (“The Pill”) to patches, IUDs, and the “morning after pill,” which prevents conception up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse has taken place.

The vast majority of birth control options used by women today are hormonal—that is, they use a small amount of a pregnancy hormone to trick the body into believing that it is already pregnant.  In most situations, this prevents the body from producing a viable egg once a month.  However, it has been speculated by doctors that hormonal contraception may also prevent the implantation of an embryo, which occurs 3-5 days after fertilization.  Because up to fifty percent of eggs fail to implant for unknown reasons, it is difficult to gauge accurately whether and how often birth control prevents implantation.

The owner of Tyndale Publishing, which requested the injunction, believed that the implantation prevention caused by hormonal birth control makes it equivalent to abortion.  He sued alleging that the ACA violates his right to free expression of religious beliefs by requiring him to violate his own religious beliefs for the sake of following the new healthcare law. 

The judge, at least for now, agrees.  Judge Walton ruled that the government had not shown a compelling governmental interest for the new contraceptive requirement, and that without a compelling interest the law was not enforceable when it came into conflict with sincerely held religious beliefs. A decision on whether to make the injunction permanent is likely to follow in December or January.

However, in Oklahoma City, at a different district court, a very different result happened from a very similar case.  The owners of Hobby Lobby, a chain store that sells arts and crafts supplies, asked for the same type of injunction against the ACA for the same reasons—a religious belief that its contraceptive provisions were morally wrong.

U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton ruled against Hobby Lobby's request for an injunction.  According to Heaton, while the free exercise of religion is a right afforded to individuals under the Constitution, that right does not extend so far as to be applicable to corporations.  Unlike a church or non-profit religious organization, Hobby Lobby was not a religious employer, said the judge, which means that they will be required to abide by the terms of the new law.

Extensive disagreement among lower court judges regarding the proper implementation of Obamacare is likely to lead to additional cases at the Circuit Court and Supreme Court level in the years to come.

Source: uscourts.gov, ap.org