A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that employers may refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraception for moral reasons, rather than restricting the ability to refuse to those with religious objections. The case was brought by an anti-abortion group called March for Life, which opposes methods of birth control that it believes constitute abortion. The group sued the Department of Health and Human Services among other agencies on the grounds that it was being treated differently [AP report] from similarly situated employers, thus violating equal protections principles. Judge Richard Leon rejected the government’s argument that as the group was not a religious one, a rational basis existed for it to be treated differently than a religious institution which may object to providing contraceptives on religious grounds. The firm that represented March for Life, the Alliance Defending Freedom, stated [NYT report] that the decision was the first to be granted in favor of an organization opposed to the mandate for pro-life reasons based on moral convictions instead of religious.
Contraceptives have been a controversial topic in the US for quite some time. This has been intensified with the 2014 Supreme Court ruling that for profit businesses that are “closely held” (i.e., owned by a small number of individuals) may be exempted [JURIST report] from the birth-control mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) if the owners had a religious objection to one or more mandated birth control devices or method. In July of this year the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that Washington state may force pharmacies to provide emergency contraceptives, such as Plan B. In May the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the University of Notre Dame shall not, at the time being, be exempted from the federal government’s birth control mandate. In April Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued a temporary stay [JURIST report] preventing the federal government from requiring the Roman Catholic dioceses and its affiliates in Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania, to comply with the birth control mandates of the ACA. In November the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that religious non-profit groups’ rights were not violated when required to certify that they are opting out of the contraception mandate of the ACA.