Obama Care Faces New Legal Challenge Over Contraception

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 6, 2013

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Although the Supreme Court has already decided that Obama Care is Constitutional, a critical issue seems to be headed toward another round in the country’s highest court of law.  Faith-affiliated universities, charity organizations, hospitals and businesses have filed several lawsuits in lower courts across America challenging the provision of Obama Care that requires employers to provide insurance that provides free contraception.

Basis for Litigation

Faith-based organizations are basing their legal action on the guarantees found in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, which prevents government from passing a law that imposes a “substantial burden on the exercise of religion” unless there is a “compelling government interest” driving the legislation.  RFRA was designed to provide religious based organizations the freedom to exercise beliefs without government interference.  This protection prevents government from either passing a law that imposes on the free exercise of belief, or that requires religious organizations to act against their beliefs.

This protection is not absolute, as the government may impose upon religious organizations if the law serves a compelling government interest, and is written with the fewest restrictions on religion as possible.  What constitutes a “compelling interest” is not defined, so it is unclear whether or not the purpose of Obama Care is sufficient to allow government to impose requirements on religious organizations.  However, it may not matter in the long run.  

The lawsuits filed by faith-based organizations against the requirement that the insurance they provide employees cover contraception have generally been put on hold while the government attempts to create a possible exemption to Obama Care’s requirements.  Judges have declined to rule in cases brought by religious organizations, and many of the groups are waiting to see if the government’s adjustment to the insurance requirement is sufficient before proceeding with their cases.

Are For-Profit Business Owners Included?

One issue that is not likely to be resolved by tinkering with the President’s Affordable Health Care Act is whether or not for-profit businesses run by religious owners can be forced to provide insurance that covers contraception in conflict with their religious beliefs.  Proposed exemptions to the law are exclusive to faith-based organizations such as charities, universities, and non-profits – meaning for-profit business owners would not be exempt.  The owners of for-profit businesses also rely on RFRA, and claim that their religious beliefs are infringed by the federal government forcing them to provide insurance services for a manner or birth control that they oppose.

So far, the lower courts have not provided a consistent answer.  Some courts have agreed with the for-profit business owners, and determined that Obama Care puts an undue burden on the owner’s exercise of religion by compelling the insurance plans.  Other courts have decided that a for-profit business is not considered a “religious organization” under the terms of RFRA, and, as such, are not afforded Constitutional protection.

Debate for the Supreme Court

The debate, which looks to be headed towards the Supreme Court, will most likely hinge on whether or not for-profit businesses run by religious owners are considered protected religious organizations.  Unlike the decision to uphold Obama Care in the summer of 2012, it is unlikely the Supremes will be able to simply vote yay or nay on Obama Care’s constitutionality.  The high court will probably have to set some sort of precedent on the classification of for-profit businesses run by religious owners, and, depending on how other religious organizations react to the potential exemptions affecting them, also decide whether or not requiring insurance that includes contraception goes too far.

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