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Federal court blocks contraception mandate for construction company over religious objections
Federal court blocks contraception mandate for construction company over religious objections
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[JURIST] The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] on Friday temporarily enjoined [opinion, PDF] the enforcement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (PPACA) [text; JURIST backgrounder] contraceptives coverage mandate for an Illinois construction company. The company, owned by a Roman Catholic couple, claim that the mandate “substantially burdens their exercise of religion” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) [text]. The ruling is the first time that a federal court at this level has enjoined the contraception mandate for a non-religious organization, but for a company operated by strongly religious owners. According to the court:

“[T]he Kortes have established a reasonable likelihood of success on their claim that the contraception mandate imposes a substantial burden on their religious exercise. As such, the burden will be on the government to demonstrate that the contraception mandate is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.”

In a two-to-one ruling, the court stated “an injunction pending appeal temporarily interferes with the government’s goal of increasing cost-free access to contraception and sterilization. That interest, while not insignificant, is outweighed by the harm to the substantial religious-liberty interests on the other side.” The Supreme Court [official website] ruled last week to deny Hobby Lobby, Inc.’s application [JURIST report] for injunction against the contraceptive coverage mandate. Hobby Lobby, Inc. and Mardel Inc. announced [JURIST report] later that week that they will not comply with Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s order.

More than forty lawsuits have been filed challenging the PPACA provision. Last week, a judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri [official website] blocked [JURIST report] a Missouri law which prohibits mandatory insurance coverage of birth control for any employers with ethical or religious objections, finding that the state law conflicts with the PPACA. The Missouri Insurance Coalition [official website] sought to have the state law blocked, arguing that it is invalid because it conflicts with federal law. Earlier this month, attorneys for the federal government filed a motion [JURIST report] with the US District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma to dismiss a complaint challenging the PPACA. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt had filed a suit in January against the federal health care law arguing that “Congress had exceeded its Article I powers by enacting the Act’s minimum coverage provision. Last month the Supreme Court remanded a case concerning the contraception mandate, Liberty University v. Geithner [JURIST reports], to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website]. The court ordered the lower court to re-consider the case in light of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius [JURIST report], in which the Supreme Court decided in June that the PPACA is a constitutionally valid exercise of Congress’ powers under the Taxing Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder].