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Mandated contraception coverage is a matter of ‘fierce controversy’ in courts

Posted Jan 30, 2013 6:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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More than 45 lawsuits are challenging a mandate for employer-provided contraception coverage in the Obama administration’s health care law, resulting in a mix of rulings.

The requirement is a matter of “fierce controversy” that appears headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the New York Times reports. The law requires employer coverage of all contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including morning-after pills.

An exemption is allowed for nonprofit “religious employers” if they primarily employ and serve people with their same religious beliefs, with a purpose of instilling religious values, according to the Times and the Associated Press.

Among those challenging the law are religious schools that don’t qualify for an exemption and companies led by those with religious objections. The Department of Health and Human Services is drafting a broader exemption for faith-affiliated institutions, but it wouldn’t apply to for-profit companies, AP says.

One issue in the cases is whether the mandate is a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law says the government cannot impose a substantial burden unless it is justified by a compelling interest and is the least restrictive way to further that interest.

In one case, Hobby Lobby founder David Green, an evangelical Christian, objects to funding morning-after pills. The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant Green’s request for a preliminary injunction last month.

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