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Circuit Court Blocks Obamacare Contraception Mandate

Two for-profit companies won a ruling by the Seventh Circuit Court to protect them from the mandate to cover birth control benefits as part of their employee's insurance, as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Court ruled on two cases at once, William D. Grote III et al, v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al, and Cyril B. Korte et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al.

Friday's 2-1 ruling blocks the enforcement of the "contraception mandate" and was the first decision to separately protect both the owners and their businesses under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

'"In short," the court wrote, "[the] RFRA operates as a kind of utility remedy for the inevitable clashes between religious freedom and the realities of the modern welfare state, which regulates pervasively and touches nearly every aspect of social and economic life."'

In September, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled a for-profit entity must comply with the Affordable Care Act's contraception coverage mandate. While in June, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a different for-profit company saying that the company had the right to uphold its religious beliefs and deny contraceptive coverage, leading to a temporary injunction to be exempted from the Affordable Care Act stipulation. The broad ruling of the court and the dissenting rulings by other courts will likely send the issue to the Supreme Court to decide.

The dissenting judge in the most recent case, Illana Rovner, warned that the scope of the majority ruling could enable businesses to challenge other federal regulations based on religious beliefs, hypothetically including not providing time off for a gay man to attend the birth of his and his partner's child, Christian Scientists who would cover healthcare facilities providing only "cure by prayer" services, or denying treatment for conditions cured by embryonic stem cell research.

"Your boss shouldn't be able to discriminate against you because of what he or she believes, plain and simple," a representative from the ACLU told Arizona Daily. "People are entitled to their own religious beliefs, but they don't have the right to impose those views on others."

Of the 79 cases filed to challenge the birth control mandate as an infringement on religious liberty, 64 cases by both nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies are pending. Many nonprofit organizations re-filed even after the Obama administration issued a rule that nonprofit organizations with religious objections would not have to fund or otherwise have any connections to the birth control benefit.

Media Resources: Indianapolis Business Journal 11/11; RH Reality Check 11/11; Feminist Newswire 9/19, 7/22; Arizona Daily Independent 11/12; ACLU 11/11

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