Americans United Urges Federal Appeals Court To Protect Non-Profit Employees’ Access To Birth Control

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Religiously Affiliated Organizations Are Not Burdened By Contraceptive Mandate Thanks To Accommodation, Says Church-State Watchdog

Apr 3, 2014

Religiously affiliated organizations should not be allowed to prevent their employees and students from accessing contraceptives in health insurance plans because they are not forced to provide those medications directly, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Americans United said the non-profit organization Priests for Life as well as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., are not just seeking an exemption from the Obama administration’s birth control mandate; instead, they want the right to deny contraceptives to as many people as possible.

“Religiously affiliated organizations have already received a generous accommodation that gives them an out from paying for birth control,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “But that wasn’t enough for some of them. Now they want to stop Americans from using contraceptives.”

In the consolidated appeals of Priests for Life, et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services andRoman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, et al. v. Sebelius, the Catholic groups claim that a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires religiously affiliated institutions to allow third-party providers to give no-cost contraceptives to employees is a violation of religious liberty.

Americans United maintains that the accommodation given to institutions like Priests for Life and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is sufficient. Those institutions are merely required to certify that they do not wish to cover contraceptives. The government then requires the institutions’ insurers or health-plan administrators to offer contraceptive coverage to affected individuals — at no cost to the institution. This ensures that religiously affiliated entities bear no financial burden for contraceptive coverage.

But this accommodation has not satisfied many organizations. They also want the right to control private health decisions for their employees.

“The relief that the Plaintiffs seek is not an exemption, as that term is normally understood; it is a veto,” the brief says.

The brief was authored by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, with assistance from Madison Fellow Caitlin E. O’Connell. The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation joined Americans United in signing the brief.