US government proposes changes to contraceptive mandate exemptions

[JURIST] The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) [official website] on Friday issued proposed rules to revise which for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations [proposed rules, PDF] are exempt from the contraception mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [text]. The changes come in response to the Supreme Court's rulings in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell [SCOTUSblog backgrounders], which held that "closely held" corporations cannot be required to provide contraceptive coverage [JURIST report] to their female workers if the corporations' owners have religious objections. The proposed rule provides for some limitations on the court's ruling [CCIIO factsheet], stating that publicly traded corporations are not covered by the exemption. Additionally, the rule proposes two definitions for "closely held" corporations, with one limiting the maximum number of owners a "closely held" corporation could have, and the other specifying a minimum percentage of a total number of owners who had actual ownership concentrated among them. HHS is soliciting comments on both rules, and all comments must be received by October 21.

The Supreme Court's rulings on the contraceptive mandate [JURIST backgrounder] and the mandate itself have generated controversy [JURIST op-ed]. Louise Melling, deputy legal directer of the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] stated of the court's ruling in Hobby Lobby [press release] that "[r]eligious freedom is a fundamental right, but that freedom does not include the right to impose beliefs on others. In its ruling today, the Court simply got it wrong." Barbara Green, one of the founders of Hobby Lobby, said [press release] that "[o]ur family is overjoyed by the Supreme Court's decision. Today the nation's highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country's founding principles. The Court's decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey."

 

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