Federal Judge: HHS Contraceptive Mandate Violates Religious Freedom

News: Government
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 26, 2016   

Government should allow individuals to opt out of contraceptive coverage

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A federal judge in Missouri is ruling that the HHS Contraceptive Mandate unconstitutionally violates the religious freedom rights of individuals.

Thursday, U.S. District Judge Jean C. Hamilton sided with Republican state lawmaker Paul Wieland, and his wife Teresa, holding that ruled the Obama administration can't force the family against their conscience to select a healthcare option that provides for contraception, sterilization or abortifacient drugs. The Wielands were objecting to a healthcare plan that included coverage for contraception and sterilization on the grounds that it violated their Catholic faith.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly called Obamacare, the contraceptive mandate requires all employer health plans to provide coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, which include certain abortifacient drugs.

In their defense, the Wielands held up the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says government shall not "substantially burden" religious freedom except in the case of a compelling government interest and only then by using the least restrictive means.

In her decision Thursday, Judge Hamilton ruled the ACA's contraception mandate, in violation of federal law, imposes a substantial burden on the Wieland's by forcing them either kto violate their religious conscience, or drop their health insurance, leading to dire consequences.

Hamilton wrote,

The ultimate impact is that Plaintiffs must either maintain a health insurance plan that includes contraceptive coverage, in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs, or they can forgo healthcare altogether, which will result in the imposition of significant penalties.

Additionally, without insurance, the family would be left to pay 100 percent of their healthcare bills out of pocket, which is virtually impossible considering the high cost of medical bills.

Lawyers for the government argued that insurance companies couldn't function if insurers had individual health plans for specific needs and preferences.

But the judge noted ACA isn't like other government programs like Medicare and Social Security because with ACA the government doesn't provide the insurance. Because of this, the government can leave it up to insurers to decide whether or not to offer contraceptive-free plans, she wrote. Judge Hamilton therefore agreed with the Wielands' assertion that the government could allow individuals to check a box to opt out of contraceptive coverage.

 

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