The DC Court of Appeals struck down the birth control mandate in Obamacare, saying it would place an undue burden on businesses who object to the mandate on religious grounds.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — the second most influential bench in the land behind the Supreme Court — ruled 2-1 in favor of business owners who are fighting the requirement that they provide their employees with health insurance that covers birth control.
Requiring companies to cover their employees’ contraception, the court ruled, is unduly burdensome for business owners who oppose birth control on religious grounds, even if they are not purchasing the contraception directly.
“The burden on religious exercise does not occur at the point of contraceptive purchase; instead, it occurs when a company’s owners fill the basket of goods and services that constitute a healthcare plan,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote on behalf of the court.
Legal analysts expect the Supreme Court to ultimately pick up an appeal on the birth-control requirement and make a final decision on its constitutionality.
In the meantime, Republicans in Congress have pushed for a conscience clause that would allow employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage for moral or religious reasons.
The measure emerged most recently during negotiations to fund the federal government. Some House Republicans wanted to include the conscience clause in a legislative package ending the government shutdown.
The split ruling against the government on Friday was the latest in a string of court cases challenging the healthcare law’s mandate.
Friday’s ruling centered on two Catholic brothers, Francis and Philip Gilardi, who own a 400-person produce company based in Ohio.
The brothers oppose contraception as part of their religion and challenged the Affordable Care Act provision requiring them to provide insurance that covers their employees’ birth control.
Refusing to abide by the letter of the law, they said, would result in a $14 million fine.
“They can either abide by the sacred tenets of their faith, pay a penalty of over $14 million, and cripple the companies they have spent a lifetime building, or they become complicit in a grave moral wrong,” Brown wrote.
A “grave moral wrong” and perhaps sounding the death knell for the mandate, the appeals court said that the government failed to make it’s case that birth control was a “right” that supersedes an individual’s conscience:
Brown wrote that “it is clear the government has failed to demonstrate how such a right — whether described as noninterference, privacy, or autonomy — can extend to the compelled subsidization of a woman’s procreative practices.”
She added that denying coverage of contraception would not undermine the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that health insurance provide preventative care.
The case will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court. But if one of the most liberal appeals courts in the country can reach this kind of decision, it’s hard to see how the Supreme Court and it’s current narrow conservative majority can overturn it.