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Sixth Circuit Holds That Non-Profit Organizations Can't Interfere with Employees' Birth Control Coverage

Yesterday, another federal court of appeals [PDF] sided with female employees for whom the Affordable Care Act ensures birth control coverage. In a unanimous decision [PDF] rom a panel of three judges, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request of several non-profit organizations with religious objections to birth control to exempt them from the birth control coverage requirement, even though they are not even required to provide the coverage. The court’s decision means that the female employees and their covered dependents will not lose access to the birth control benefit, despite their bosses’ efforts.

These non-profit organizations are entitled to an “accommodation” for the birth control benefit, which aims to respect religious beliefs while still ensuring that women get the benefit they deserve. Under the “accommodation,” the non-profit organizations simply sign a form telling their insurer that they have religious objections to birth control. Separately, the insurer arranges for the employees to get birth control covered with no cost-sharing.

But these non-profits are challenging the accommodation in court, arguing that it violates their religious beliefs to even sign the form.

Fortunately, the 6th Circuit did not agree with the non-profits on these matters. The court squarely found that the accommodation is not a “substantial burden” on the non-profits’ religious exercise.  The court stated that the non-profits “are not required to ‘provide’ contraceptive coverage. They are not required physically to distribute contraception to their employees upon request, and the [non-profit’s] health plan does not host the coverage;” the non-profits “are not required to ‘pay for’ contraceptive coverage;” and the non-profits “are not required to ‘facilitate access to’ contraceptive coverage.”

As a result of the 6th Circuit’s decision, women workers and dependents get contraceptive coverage despite the objections of their non-profit employer. We’re still waiting on decisions from other courts of appeals, including the D.C. Circuit. And, of course, we’re still waiting on the Supreme Court’s decision in the two for-profit corporations’ challenges to the contraceptive coverage, which should come out by the end of the month. We’ll keep you posted!

 

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