Nonreligious anti-abortion groups have to comply with ACA’s contraceptive mandate, 3rd Circuit rules

Religious Law

An anti-abortion group unaffiliated with any religious group has to comply with the contraceptive coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (PDF) on Friday that secular groups can’t obtain a religious exemption to the law, report the Legal Intelligencer (sub. req.) and the Religion Clause blog. The group, Real Alternatives Inc., had claimed it was entitled to the exemption on equal protection grounds.

The appeals court ruled unanimously that there was no equal protection violation, and ruled 2-1 that the mandate does not substantially burden the rights of religious employees working for secular groups under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The appeals court majority found no RFRA violation because religious employees can choose whether to use the contraceptive benefits. Senior Judge Marjorie Rendell wrote the majority opinion, while Judge Kent Jordan dissented on the RFRA issue.

According to Jordan, the choice for religious employees was between purchasing a health plan with the offending contraceptive coverage or declining to purchase a plan and facing a tax penalty. Under Supreme Court precedent, such a Hobson’s choice is indeed a substantial burden on the exercise of religion, he said.

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