[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) violates the religious rights of employers by forcing them to help provide contraceptive coverage despite not being required to pay for it. The ACA requires all employers to provide insurance coverage for their employees, which includes access to contraceptives. The plaintiffs argue that the opt-out provision, which allows employers with sincerely held religious beliefs not to pay for contraceptive coverage, still violates their rights because they must provide information that enables insurance companies to provide the coverage at no extra cost. Circuit Judge Ralph Wollman stated in the majority opinion that employers’ “sincere religious belief that their participation in the accommodation process makes them morally and spiritually complicit in providing abortifacient coverage.” The Eight Circuit’s decision has caused a circuit split, which may lead to the US Supreme Court taking up the issue.
Comprehensive health care reform [JURIST backgrounder] was passed by Congress in March 2010, and recent legal challenges have reinvigorated debate. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) [official website] reports that between 2010 and 2015, at least 21 states enacted laws attempting to challenge or completely opt out of mandatory provisions of the ACA. In June the Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] in King v. Burwell [SCOTUSblog materials] that tax credits available to those who buy health insurance through state exchanges are also available to those who buy it through the federal exchange. Last year the court ruled [JURIST report] in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that closely held corporations can deny contraceptive coverage to their employees for religious reasons.