Circuit upholds ACA contraception-coverage requirement

Geneva College v. Secretary — civil – RFRA — reversal — Rendell

The Third Circuit denied a major religious-rights challenge to Obamacare today, ruling that the act’s contraception-coverage scheme does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Here is the introduction (some citations omitted):

The appellees in these consolidated appeals challenge the preventive services requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) (2010), under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). Particularly, the appellees object to the ACA’s requirement that contraceptive coverage be provided to their plan participants and beneficiaries. However, the nonprofit appellees are eligible for an accommodation to the contraceptive coverage requirement, whereby once they advise that they will not pay for the contraceptive services, coverage for those services will be independently provided by an insurance issuer or third-party administrator. The appellees urge that the accommodation violates RFRA because it forces them to “facilitate” or “trigger” the provision of insurance coverage for contraceptive services, which they oppose on religious grounds. The appellees affiliated with the Catholic Church also object on the basis that the application of the accommodation to Catholic nonprofit organizations has the impermissible effect of dividing the Catholic Church, because the Dioceses themselves are eligible for an actual exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement. The District Courts granted the appellees’ motions for a preliminary injunction, and, in one of the cases, converted the preliminary injunction to a permanent injunction. Because we disagree with the District Courts and conclude that the accommodation places no substantial burden on the appellees, we will reverse.

Judge Rendell is the author, joined by McKee and Sloviter. Arguing counsel were Mark Stern for the government and Gregory Baylor and Paul Pohl (a former Weis clerk and past chair of the CA3 lawyer’s advisory committee) for the parties challenging the law.

A cert petition seems inevitable. Early news coverage of this decision by Saranac Hale Spencer in the Legal Intelligencer is here.