Constitutional Law

Judge rules for group with moral, rather than religious, objections to contraceptive mandate

  • Print.

A federal judge has ruled on behalf of an anti-abortion group that contended it should be entitled to the same exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive-coverage mandate as religious organizations.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon of Washington, D.C., ruled (PDF) Monday on behalf of the nonprofit, March for Life, the Blog of Legal Times, the New York Times and USA Today report. The group said it had a moral objection to the contraceptive requirement.

The Obama administration’s health-care law requires most employers to provide coverage for contraceptives in their insurance plans. Religious institutions and religiously oriented nonprofits can be exempted from the mandate.

Leon said the contraceptive mandate treats religious and nonreligious groups differently in violation of the equal protection clause. “March for Life has been excised from the fold because it is not ‘religious,’ ” Leon wrote. “This is nothing short of regulatory favoritism.”

The government had argued the First Amendment gives special protections to religious groups, and those protections don’t have to be extended to a group with moral objections to the law. The appeals court said religious groups do have some advantages over their secular counterparts, but religion “is not a talisman that sweeps aside all constitutional concerns.”

Leon also ruled on behalf of two plaintiffs who are employed by March for Life who objected to the contraceptive mandate on religious grounds. Leon said the mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it burdens the workers’ sincere exercise of religion and it is not the least-restrictive means of providing contraceptives to women who want them.

The government’s interest in a sustainable market for insurance companies “would not be undermined by simply making it legal for a third-party provider to offer, without penalty, a plan consistent with plaintiffs’ religious beliefs,” Leon wrote.

The case is March for Life v. Burwell.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.