7th Circuit Weighs in on Contraceptive Mandate

 Well, the Circuit split widens in the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") contraception mandate litigation. On Friday, the Seventh Circuit issued its opinion in Korte v. Sebelius [an enhanced version of this opinion is available to lexis.com subscribers]. It's a lengthy opinion, but the Court provides a nice summary of the issue and the holding:

The mandate requires employers to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization procedures in their employee health-care plans on a no-cost-sharing basis. Noncompliance carries heavy financial penalties and the risk of enforcement actions. 

The plaintiffs are two Catholic families and their closely held corporations—one a construction company in Illinois and the other a manufacturing firm in Indiana. The businesses are secular and for profit, but they operate in conformity with the faith commitments of the families that own and manage them.The plaintiffs object for religious reasons to providing the mandated coverage. They sued for an exemption on constitutional and statutory grounds 

. . . . . 

These cases—two among many currently pending in courts around the country—raise important questions about whether business owners and their closely held corporations may assert a religious objection to the contraception mandate and whether forcing them to provide this coverage substantially burdens their religious-exercise rights. We hold that the plaintiffs—the business owners and their companies—may challenge the mandate. We further hold that compelling them to cover these services substantially burdens their religious-exercise rights. . . . . [We] remand with instructions to enter preliminary injunctions barring enforcement of the mandate against them.

As SCOTUSblog notes, "the Tenth Circuit ruled that profit-making companies can exercise religious beliefs and thus are protected from the mandate, while the Third and Sixth Circuits have ruled in the opposite way." Meanwhile, the D.C. Circuit took a "split approach" that "profit-making corporations cannot make a religious challenge . . . however, if the firm is owned by only a few individuals, they can challenge it to defend their own religious objections, and they may well win."

Due to the wide circuit split, the Supreme Court will likely rule on this issue. It touches on some hot topics in the law, such as religious freedom, corporate personhood, and of course, Obamacare. So, I expect that it will get a fair amount of mainstream media attention.

Read additional employment law articles on Philip Miles’ blog, Lawffice Space.

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