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Catholic employers temporarily exempt from contraception mandate

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma [official website] on Wednesday granted an injunction [order, PDF] that temporarily exempts more than 200 Catholic employers from providing insurance coverage for birth control under the of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [materials; JURIST backgrounder]. The Catholic Benefits Association [advocacy website] had filed suit in March, arguing that the contraception mandate violates their religious beliefs. Judge David Russell found that the plaintiffs would face tangible harm if the provisions were enforced, and granted a preliminary injunction blocking their enforcement. A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice declined to comment [AP report] on the ruling.

In March the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on whether companies have a right to an exemption from the contraception provision of the PPACA for religious reasons. The plaintiffs in the combined cases of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Inc. and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius [SCOTUSblog backgrounders] contend they should be exempt from some of the coverage requirements of the PPACA's pregnancy-related services mandate, including certain "abortifacient" contraceptives. The corporations argue that the regulation will impose a "substantial burden" on the corporations' exercise of religion, which is protected by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) [text]. Alternatively, the corporations have asserted a claim that the mandate violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The Supreme Court must decide whether corporations can "exercise" religion under the RFRA. A ruling is expected this month.

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