A requirement of President Barack Obama’s health-care law that group insurance plans cover contraceptives was ordered blocked by a federal appeals court, the first ban on enforcement of the mandate.
Friday’s decision increases the probability that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue to resolve conflicting appeals court rulings.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago returned two cases to trial courts with instructions to enter preliminary injunctions blocking enforcement of the requirement in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In a 2-1 decision, the three-judge panel reversed the lower-court decisions in lawsuits brought by Catholic families and their closely held corporations.
“These cases -- two among many currently pending in courts around the country -- raise important questions about whether business owners and their closely held corporations may assert a religious objection to the contraception mandate and whether forcing them to provide this coverage substantially burdens their religious-exercise rights,” U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Sykes wrote in the majority opinion.
Last month, an appeals court panel in Washington also ruled that the contraceptives mandate may violate religious freedom, as did an appeals court in Denver previously. Appeals courts in Philadelphia and Cincinnati have upheld the law.
“This decision is a disappointment,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an e-mailed statement. The organization said it filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. “Your boss shouldn’t be able to discriminate against you because of what he or she believes, plain and simple. People are entitled to their own religious beliefs, but they don’t have the right to impose those views on others.”
Adora Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department, didn’t immediately respond to a call after regular business hours seeking comment on the order.
“This is an important issue to people who run these small companies and are dictated by their faith in how they should run the company,” said Edward White, a lawyer representing one of the plaintiffs, Cyril B. Korte.
The decision is the first appeals court ruling finding in favor of both the owners and the company, White said. That’s important because it makes clear that either the owners or the company can sue over the mandate, he said.
The Supreme Court will take up the case because “you have a conflict on an important national issue,” White said. “We’re overjoyed.”
The cases are Korte v. Sebelius, 12-3841, and Grote v. Sebelius, 13-1077, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago).
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