Hobby Lobby Ruling May Bolster Other Contraceptive Cases

Tuesday, 01 Jul 2014 10:19 AM

By Melanie Batley

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The Supreme Court's ruling Monday, which exempts Hobby Lobby Inc. from complying with Obamacare's contraceptive mandate, is expected to strengthen the cases of plaintiffs in dozens of similar cases underway in federal courts.

But the ruling leaves unresolved other aspects of the government's contraceptive coverage requirements, which are being opposed in cases currently pending by some religious groups and nonprofits, The New York Times reported.

Specifically, while the court ruled that the contraceptive mandate requirement was too imposing for those objecting to it on religious grounds, it noted that the government has  found a "less restrictive" alternative that may be applied. The court said however that Monday's ruling did not decide the legality of the government's alternative.

The alternative requires that groups that object to the mandate self-certify to obtain exemption from providing contraceptive coverage in employee health plans. In those cases, the government authorizes insurance providers to offer contraceptive coverage by acting as third-party administrators.

Monday's decision, therefore, would not resolve a prominent case brought on by an order of Roman Catholic nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, which takes issue with the government's alternative.

The Little Sisters of the Poor objects to self-certifying, saying the rule effectively achieves the same outcome as the original contraceptive mandate, which the organization opposes on religious grounds.

The University of Notre Dame and Catholic Charities of Philadelphia are also challenging the government's alternative, saying the accommodation does not go far enough to protect their religious rights, the Times reported.

Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, said that the opinion issued by Justice Samuel Alito could pose a problem for those cases because it suggests that the court sees the accommodation as a possible way to address the concerns of those groups.

"Today's decision does not bode well for the nonprofit organizations," Greenberger told the Times.

Other experts, however, interpret the ruling in a different way.

"Today's decision will be helpful to the Little Sisters and other nonprofit organizations because it rejects the idea that the government can tell religious believers that their beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial," Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters, told the Times.
"And that's the argument the government has been using in cases involving nonprofit organizations."

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