Judge bars contraceptive mandate from being enforced


A district court in Texas has permanently barred the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate from being enforced, ruling that the requirement violates religious freedoms.

In a June 5, 2019, opinion, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor granted a permanent injunction on the contraceptive mandate, ruling that both the mandate and the accommodation process violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The injunction applies to all individuals and employers – regardless of size or nonprofit status – that oppose contraceptive coverage based on religious beliefs.

In his ruling, Judge O’Connor said the contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the plaintiffs’ religious exercise.

“The point of the contraceptive mandate is to ensure all ACA-compliant insurance plans include cost-free coverage of all FDA [Food and Drug Administration]-approved contraceptive methods [and] the point of the individual mandate is to ensure individuals purchase ACA-compliant insurance plans,” Judge O’Conner wrote. “The result? The individual plaintiffs are forced out of either the health insurance market or their religious exercise. And by choosing to adhere to their religious beliefs, not only are the individual plaintiffs excluded from the insurance market, they are forced to violate federal law. That the contraceptive mandate systematically discriminates against the individual class by blocking members’ entrance into the marketplace – due to religious exercise – is a substantial burden of the highest order.”

The case, DeOtte v. Azar, started with an October 2018 legal challenge by several Texas residents and a business over having to comply with the Affordable Care Act mandate. The plaintiffs argued the requirement violates their religious freedom, and that the court should strike it down as unconstitutional. The current Justice Department has largely chosen not to defend the case, agreeing that forcing people and employers with religious objections to comply with the contraceptive mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In 2018, the department issued new rules expanding exemptions to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate on moral or religious grounds.

Legal challenges against the expanded exemptions continue through the courts. Judges in California and Pennsylvania have temporarily banned the rules from taking effect. Analysts say the final answer on the contraceptive mandate could come from the U.S. Supreme Court.

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