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5 Things To Know About the Cases Brought by Non-Profits with Religious Objections to Insurance Coverage for Birth Control

You’ve heard about the for-profit companies challenging the birth control coverage benefit. This Spring, the Supreme Court will review two for-profit cases, brought by Hobby Lobby, a nationwide arts and crafts store with over 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a wood cabinet manufacturer with nearly 1,000 employees. Non-profits with religious objections to birth control coverage have also challenged the benefit, with over 25 cases currently pending. The new year brought a deluge of activity in cases brought by non-profits with religious objections to birth control coverage.

Here are 5 things to know about the challenges to the birth control coverage benefit brought by non-profits with religious objections: 

  1. Houses of worship are exempt from providing birth control coverage to their employees. This means that employees of churches and other houses do not have to have any access to birth control coverage through their health insurance plan. 
  2. The birth control coverage rule provides for an “accommodation” for non-profits with religious objections to birth control coverage. The accommodation ensures that employees receive birth control coverage no matter where they work, while their employer does not have to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for that coverage.
  3. To take advantage of the accommodation, a non-profit that holds itself out as religious must simply fill out a form stating that it has religious objections to birth control. Once the non-profit sends this form to its insurance company (or its third party administrator (TPA) if it is self-insured), the insurance company or TPA must arrange to provide the non-profit's employees with birth control coverage. The non-profit itself neither pays for nor contracts for birth control coverage – all it has to do is fill out a form.
  4. For many non-profit employers with religious objections to birth control, the start date for the accommodation was January 1, 2014. That’s why the new year brought a flurry of activity in the non-profit cases: several non-profits brought emergency motions to the courts, asking that the courts block the birth control coverage benefit while the cases continue to make their way through the courts. The Seventh and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeal denied these emergency motions, while the Sixth and D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeal granted the motions.   
  5. On New Year's Eve, Justice Sotomayor granted temporary relief to a group of non-profits with religious objections to birth control coverage while she considers the government’s response, which was filed on Friday. The plaintiffs in this case, Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, sought relief from the Supreme Court after their motion was denied by both a Colorado district court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. On Friday, the government filed a response, arguing in opposition to the temporary injunction. Justice Sotomayor is expected to issue a decision soon about whether or not to keep the temporary injunction in place as the case proceeds.

In this particular case, the non-profits have a self-insured “church plan” – a type of ERISA plan defined to be exempt from certain provisions used to enforce the accommodation. This means that after the non-profits certify that they have religious objections to birth control coverage, the government does not have the authority to require their TPA to arrange for birth control coverage. Therefore, employees in this case will not have access to birth control regardless of whether the organizations sign the form or not. (Note that having an ERISA “church plan” is different than being a house of worship exempt from the birth control coverage rule.)

As we’ve said before: bosses should not have the right to deny their employees access to birth control coverage, a health benefit that has been and continues to be key to women’s health and women’s equality. Remember, 99% of sexually active women – and 98% of sexually active Catholic women – use birth control at some point during their reproductive years. They shouldn’t be denied birth control coverage because they work for a non-profit that objects to filing out a form in which it states its objection to birth control. They shouldn’t be denied important religious exercise protections, which allow each person to participate equally in society regardless of their religious beliefs and regardless of where they work.