Court rejects challenges to ACA contraceptive coverage

Religion Clause reports on the ruling on challenges to the Affordable Care Act mandate to provide contraceptive coverage. The judge knocked down at least three popular arguments against contraceptive coverage

In an important and extensively reasoned opinion handed down yesterday, a Missouri federal district court rejected a series of challenges to the contraceptive coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act brought by a small business organized as a limited liability company and by its sole owner who is Catholic. Plaintiffs claimed that the mandate burdens their exercise of religion. In O’Brien v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (ED MO, Sept. 28, 2012), Judge Carol E. Jackson (a President George H. W. Bush appointee) first held that she need not decide whether O’Brien Industrial Holdings (“OIH”), a secular limited liability company, is capable of exercising religion within the meaning of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or the First Amendment because, even if it is, the contraception coverage mandate does not infringe religious exercise rights.


Moving to the 1st Amendment Free Exercise claim, the court held that the preventive services regulations under the ACA are a neutral law of general applicability, and thus consistent with the 1st Amendment. It also rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that the religious employer exemption in the regulations violates the Establishment Clause by favoring organized religion over less formal manifestations of faith or by excessively entangling the government with religion in determining whether an organization qualifies for the exemption.


Finally the court rejected plaintiffs Administrative Procedure Act arguments. It found that plaintiffs lack standing to assert one of their APA claims. They do have standing to assert that under the APA the regulation is arbitrary and capricious. However the court rejected plaintiffs’ claim that the government in adopting the mandate arbitrarily and capriciously ignored the impact of the regulation on secular, for-profit employers with religious values.

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