Federal appeals court rules against Notre Dame in contraception case

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Friday ruled against [opinion, PDF] the University of Notre Dame [academic website], denying their claim that the US Department of Health's [official website] contraception-coverage requirement is forcing the institution to violate its religious beliefs. In a 2-1 decision, the federal court affirmed a lower court's ruling that denied Notre Dame's request for a temporary injunction from the federal health law's contraception requirement. Notre Dame argued that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's (PPACA) [text; JURIST backgrounder] compromise allowing religiously-affiliated nonprofits to let third party insurance companies Aetna and Meritain provide birth control to students and employees is inadequate, because it forces the university to comply with something it believes to be immoral. The PPACA allows religiously-affiliated nonprofits to opt out of paying for contraception, but requires them to send forms alerting a third party insurer that will have to pay. The government will then reimburse the third-party administrator's costs. "What does Notre Dame want us to do?" said Judge Richard Posner, writing for the majority.

We imagine that what the university wants is an order forbidding Aetna and Meritain to provide any contraceptive coverage to Notre Dame staff or students pending final judgment in the district court. But we can't issue such an order; neither Aetna nor Meritain is a defendant. ... Furthermore, while a religious institution has a broad immunity from being required 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.
After failing to win the injunction, Notre Dame instructed its insurance plan administrator to inform school employees that they are eligible for the separate contraception arrangement while the full legal challenge continues in court.

Laws regulating contraception have been subject to various challenges at both the federal and state level. Last month, the US Supreme Court issued an order [JURIST report] enjoining the US Department of Health and Human Services from requiring that the Little Sisters, a Roman Catholic order, fill out a formal government document in order to secure exemption from the PPACA contraceptive mandate. Also last month, an Oklahoma state court judge ruled [JURIST report] the state's emergency contraception law unconstitutional. In November a divided three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the contraceptive mandate imposed by the PPACA violates the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. In October the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected [JURIST report] claims by Eden Foods that it should be exempt on religious grounds from the contraception mandate PPACA. In July the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled [JURIST report] Friday that family-owned, profit-making businesses cannot challenge the new federal health care law's birth control mandate on religious grounds.

 

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