Given the range of horrible and ridiculous things that happened last week, we were due for something sensible. On Friday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the University of Notre Dame’s request for a preliminary injunction against the birth control benefit. The decision [PDF], written by Judge Posner and joined by Judge Hamilton, affirmed the district court’s earlier denial of relief.
Notre Dame wanted to get out of signing a form that tells its insurer that it has religious objects to birth control, claiming it was a substantial burden on its religious exercise. Note that if Notre Dame got the relief it was asking for, that could mean all of the women and the female dependents with Notre Dame health insurance would no longer have any access to birth control, even where third parties provide that access. To summarize: Notre Dame isn’t satisfied that it got out of the requirement to cover birth control in its health plan, but wants to make sure othersdon’t provide that access either.
So, it looks more like Notre Dame wants to interfere with the personal health care decisions of its students and employees rather than stay out of them. But, as the 7th Circuit explains, while a religious institution like Notre Dame may refuse to “engage in acts that violate the tenets of its faith, it has no right to prevent other institutions, whether the government or a health insurance company, from engaging in acts that merely offend the institution.” Read more »
These are just two of over 40 lawsuits brought by bosses at for-profit companies seeking to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and deny them a critical health benefit. These cases raise big questions, like whether a for-profit corporation is a “person” capable of exercising religious belief and whether requiring a company’s health plan to cover birth control amounts to a “substantial burden” on religious exercise. Read more »
Late last Friday, the 7th Circuit ruled in favor of two for-profit corporations and the individuals who own them in their challenge to the ACA’s contraceptive coverage rule. The court concluded not only that the rule substantially burdens the religious exercise rights of the company’s owners but also that the rule substantially burdens the independent religious exercise rights of the for-profit corporation. This is the first decision to find thatboth the for-profit corporation is a “person” capable of exercising religion and that the individuals who own it can challenge a rule that applies to their company (and not to them) under RFRA.
Two judges reached that conclusion over the strong dissent of Judge Ilana Rovner. At several points, she suspects there’s something fishy going on here with the birth control rule. And it has something to do with women, sex, and stigma. Read more »
Last Thursday, July 11, a district court in Michigan refused to temporarily stop enforcement of the contraceptive coverage benefit against another for-profit corporation. The company challenging the contraceptive coverage benefit is Mersino Management. Mersino Management sells water bypass systems for profit. Indeed, it states that “complete water management is our specialty.” The bosses at Mersino Management also think that they have a special right to decide whether their employees get access to birth control. Specifically, Mersino Management has been arguing in court that for-profit companies can exercise religious beliefs and that bosses’ should be able to impose those religious beliefs on their employees to determine whether employees are able to have birth control coverage. Read more »
And then there are the lawsuits. The lawsuits just keep coming — many from for-profit companies. The cases are challenging the requirement under the health care law that all new insurance plans provide birth control coverage, without cost-sharing.
A new case was filed last week by a West Virginia-based corporation engaged in selling and servicing motor vehicles. While Holland Chevrolet’s 150 full-time employees receive employer based group health insurance, the company has always denied female employees and dependents access to the full range of birth control. Read more »
But these aren’t the only kinds of losses hitting women in the manufacturing industry; even women who have managed to hold onto their jobs might find themselves stripped of some benefits if employers like John Kennedy, CEO of Autocam, have their way.
The Wisconsin Assembly is considering a bill that would undermine women’s ability to control their reproductive health. AB 216 targets both access to abortion AND access to contraception—a move that a member of the Committee on Health reviewing the bill described as “ironic.” I would add ‘poorly informed, contrary to reason, and designed to undermine women’s ability to control their health care decisions.’
If passed, the bill would weaken women’s reproductive health in two ways:
It would ban insurance coverage of abortion for state employees.
It would allow certain kinds of bosses to take away women’s access to insurance coverage of birth control.
What do a crafts supply chain, construction contractor, and health food company have in common? Over the past two weeks these for-profit companies have tried to convince appellate courts that their employees should be denied full insurance coverage of birth control at their bosses' discretion. Today, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation — a wood cabinet manufacturer with 950 employees — becomes the fourth for-profit company to try to convince a circuit court in oral arguments for preliminary injunction that they should not have to comply with the federal birth control benefit.
Both the district court and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals have rejected Conestoga's attempts to get out of complying with the birth control benefit by arguing that a for-profit company's religious beliefs should overrule the government's interest in protecting women and children's health. However the company hasn't heeded the courts' warning that they're unlikely to win. Read more »
Yesterday, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case of Hobby Lobby's challenge to the Affordable Care Act's birth control benefit. The case was heard by all the active judges on the 10th Circuit, as opposed to a typical panel of three. At the heart of this case is whether Hobby Lobby, a for-profit company, can be required to cover contraception for its over 13,000 employees. Hobby Lobby's owners contend that some forms of contraception, including the "morning-after-pill," are in violation of their religious beliefs, because they may cause abortions. This is medically inaccurate.
The main focus for the judges was whether Hobby Lobby, as a for-profit corporation, has a constitutionally protected right to religious freedom. Chief Judge Briscoe asked the lawyer for Hobby Lobby, "Do you have any authority that a for-profit corporation can exercise religion? How does that work?" Perhaps the Chief Judge was skeptical after the District Court held that "[g]eneral business corporations do not, separate and apart from the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or employees, exercise religion. They do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors. Religious exercise is, by its nature, one of those 'purely personal' matters…which is not the province of a general business corporation."
Nonetheless, relying on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), Hobby Lobby's attorney sought to establish that the birth control benefit would impose a substantial burden on the corporation and its owners. Read more »
Today, Hobby Lobby will try to explain to all the judges on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals why employees of a craft store chain should be denied full insurance coverage of birth control at their bosses' discretion. Hobby Lobby is the largest of the 31 for-profit companies attempting to challenge the federal birth control benefit, with over 13,000 employees who will be affected by what the judges decide.
"[T]he particular burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [the corporate] plan, subsidize someone else's participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiff[s'] religion."
The 10th Circuit said "We agree" when it denied Hobby Lobby's request to temporarily get out of providing the benefit. Read more »