Latest Seventh Circuit Decision on Birth Control Benefit Paves Another Path To SCOTUS
Just days before the Obama administration announced new rules concerning the birth control benefit, a split 7th Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction allowing another for-profit business to opt out, putting to rest any lingering doubts that the issue will eventually land before the Supreme Court.
The Grote Family owns and operates Grote Industries, a for-profit business located in Madison, Indiana. Grote manufactures vehicle safety and lighting systems. The business employs 1,148 workers over a variety of locations. It’s a privately-held business with a self-funded insurance plan. The Grote’s are Catholic and claim to operate their business according to the “precepts of their faith.” This includes adhering to the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding “the moral wrongfulness of abortifacient drugs, contraception, and sterilization” and denying their employees contraception coverage in the company’s plan. When faced with complying with the birth control benefit the Grotes sued to block the mandate and enjoin the Obama administration from enforcing its penalty provisions. The district court denied their request, but in a 2-1 decision the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court pending appeal, which means for now, the Grotes do not have to comply.
What’s noteworthy about the decision in this case is not the outcome, but the detailed and well-reasoned dissent crafted by Circuit Judge Ilana Rovner.
President Obama: Women Stood for You. Stand With Us and Remove Abortion Restrictions From Your Budget
This election, I was proud to work with many young people to engage our communities and campuses in the issues that impact us. One issue that engaged many young women in the election work I did this year in Ohio was access to health care, especially pregnancy related services, such as pre- and post-natal care, maternity care, and abortion care. Sixty-five percent of 18-to-24 year-olds believe abortion should be legal all or most of the time, which is higher than any other age group. I am lucky to have employer-funded health insurance that allows me to access a full range of preventive services, including all pregnancy-related services.
Sadly, not all women — even women with insurance — have access to these services. Current law unfairly limits insurance coverage for abortion for women with government-funded insurance. This is because federal dollars are withheld from covering a woman’s abortion except in limited circumstance.
The Sliding Scale of Sin: Tyndale Publishers and Contraception Without a Co-Pay
Recently, the district court for District of Columbia granted a request by Tyndale House Publishers to block the Affordable Care Act birth control benefit ensuring that employer-sponsored health insurance include coverage of contraception without a co-pay. (Jessica Mason Pielko wrote about the ruling here.)
Like so many other organizations, both religious and secular, for-profit and non-profit, Tyndale’s complaints are the same: the birth control benefit in the ACA infringes upon their right to religious freedom:
Tyndale and its owners are Christians who are committed to biblical principles, including the belief that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God from the moment of their conception/fertilization. But Defendants’ recently enacted regulatory mandate under PPACA forces Tyndale to provide and pay for drugs and devices that it and its owners believe can cause the death of human beings created in the image and likeness of God shortly after their conception/fertilization. The government’s mandate exempts what it calls “religious employers,” but denies that status to Tyndale House Publishers through its arbitrary definition.
What sets Tyndale apart from other companies challenging the birth control benefit, some of which have been successful in their challenges, and some of which have not, is that Tyndale is self-insured, whereas companies like Hobby Lobby purchase group health insurance plans from a commercial insurance carrier. In other words, Tyndale wholly assumes and underwrites the risk for providing health care to its employees (and pays for it out of its own coffers), while Hobby Lobby pays premiums to an outside insurance company. That it is self-insured means that Tyndale is paying directly for the insurance coverage of the contraception that it views as sinful, and the court found that this distinguishable fact rendered the birth control benefit sufficiently violative of Tyndale’s right to religious freedom.
Now, the court did not reach this decision in a vacuum, mind you. The Obama Administration’s compromise with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) paved the way.
Using “Religious Liberty” to Hide Religious Overreach
We have been hearing plenty about “religious liberty” lately. Now let’s see who’s using the term “religious liberty” in a novel way, trying to conceal a campaign of religious overreach.
The issue has to do with the faith-based legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Recently, a Missouri mining and manufacturing holding company, O’Brien Industrial Holdings, filed a lawsuit against the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The lawsuit challenges the ACA employer requirement to include birth control coverage in employees’ health insurance. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed an amicus brief supporting the ACA contraception rule. The brief examines the O’Brien complaint and considers the arguments in light of modern legal history.
Even though O’Brien is a secular business, the company maintains that the birth control rule violates its religious liberty — a claim that does not stand up to deeper examination. First of all, workers earn their employer-sponsored health insurance. The insurance belongs to the worker like any other earned benefit, such as salary and pension; it is as much a worker’s personal property as a pay check — the employer’s religion doesn’t belong there. After all, workers may well have different and personal moral understandings about access to birth control and no judge, politician, or office boss has any business barging in.
Moreover, a look back at recent history shows two things. First, similar laws in New York State and California have prevailed in state-level legal challenges. And second, as described in the ACLU brief, a business cannot use religious liberty as an excuse to practice religious discrimination.
Health Reform’s Quiet Victory: Pregnancy Assistance Fund Benefits Vulnerable Populations
Shauna Humphreys has been leading programs that serve at-risk teens of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma for several years. But the impact of her work has increased dramatically over the past two years because of the Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF), a provision of the Affordable Care Act supporting a range of services for pregnant teens and young adults.
Humphreys’ program, known as Support for Pregnant and Parenting Teens (SPPT), serves nearly 100 Choctaw mothers under the age of 22 by building their parenting skills, providing sex education to help prevent repeat teen pregnancies, and encouraging young mothers to obtain high school degrees and pursue higher education.
Vastly more robust than the program Humphreys ran prior to receiving a 3-year PAF grant at $900,000 per year, SPPT is staffed with six caseworkers who visit clients’ homes monthly to deliver parenting and life skills training. Caseworkers also serve as a general support network for young women who are experiencing domestic violence.
"These young women need this level of support. They typically don’t have anyone helping them to meet their personal goals," said Humphreys, herself a mother of twins. "I can’t imagine being pregnant in high school and trying to figure out my life after having a child."
While the battle over the ACA rages on in the states, with the Medicaid expansion and the birth control benefit persisting as the most contentious provisions of the law, PAF is an under-the-radar boon of health reform. Needless to say, if the ACA is repealed, PAF will likely be eliminated as well—jeopardizing Humphreys’ program and all PAF-funded programs.