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ACA and Healthcare Reform

Top Court Vacates ACA Birth Control Ruling, Remands Case

WASHINGTON, D.C. — (Mealey’s) The U.S. Supreme Court on April 27 granted two Catholic groups’ petition for certiorari and vacated a Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate did not substantially burden religious beliefs.  The court remanded the case for further consideration in light of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. (573 U.S. __ [2014]) (Michigan Catholic Conference, et al. v. Burwell, Sec. of H&HS, et al., No 14-701, U.S. Sup.). 

(Orders list available.  Document #93-150429-011R.

The Michigan Catholic Conference and Catholic Family Services d/b/a Catholic Charities Diocese of Kalamazoo filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, seeking to enjoin named government agencies from enforcing provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) related to contraceptive coverage.  The Catholic Diocese of Nashville; Catholic Charities of Tennessee; Camp Marymount; Mary, Queen of Angels; St. Mary Villa; Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation; and Aquinas College Kalamazoo filed a similar suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. 

The plaintiffs in both cases allege that they are Catholic religious entities that uphold and follow the teachings of the Catholic Church and that their sincerely held religious beliefs make it unacceptable to provide, pay for and/or facilitate access to abortion, sterilization or the use of contraception.  The plaintiffs contend that the mandate and the ACA force them to violate the church’s teachings.  They assert violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the First Amendment free exercise clause, free speech clause, establishment clause and religion clause and the Administrative Procedure Act. 


Both district courts denied motions for preliminary injunctions filed by both groups of plaintiffs.  Both groups of plaintiffs appealed to the Sixth Circuit, and the cases were consolidated for purposes of appeal. 

In affirming, the Sixth Circuit panel said that nothing in the RFRA requires it to accept the plaintiffs’ characterization of how the mandate works.  So while the plaintiffs may believe that the mandate and its opt-out infringe on their beliefs, an independent determination is required, the panel said.  The plaintiffs subject to the exemption have not shown that they are subject to a substantial burden, the panel said. 

In September, the court denied en banc rehearing.  The plaintiffs filed a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Matthew A. Kairis, Melissa Dunlap Palmisciano and Neil N. Vakharia of Jones Day in Columbus, Ohio, and Noel J. Francisco of its Washington office represent the plaintiffs.  Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery, U.S. Attorneys Patrick A. Miles Jr. and David Rivera, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Beth S. Brinkmann and Attorneys Mark B. Stern, Alisa B. Klein and Adam C. Jed, all of the Department of Justice in Washington, represent the defendants. 

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