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Supreme Court to hear ACA challenge by religious nonprofits

November 10, 2015


The U.S. Supreme Court announced last week that it would hear another group of court cases that challenge the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement that health plans provide a full range of contraceptive coverage to women at no cost.


Under the law, religious institutions, including churches, temples and mosques, are automatically exempt from the ACA's contraceptive coverage requirement and do not have to file any paperwork. Nonprofit faith-based charities and religiously affiliated educational institutions and hospitals, however, must notify the health plan or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of their religious objections. Such a notice then triggers independent birth control coverage for employees or students who want it.


The nation's high court accepted seven cases from around the country (3rd, 5th, 10th and D.C. circuit appellate courts), including one challenge involving the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and one from a religious order called the Little Sisters of the Poor, which runs homes for the aged.


The groups argue that notification "accommodation" offered by the Obama administration is not good enough because the opt-out notification itself makes them complicit in providing the coverage.


The Obama administration counters that refusing to submit a notification is essentially vetoing the rights of others who do not hold the same beliefs. The government argues that meeting these requirements does not impose a burden on these groups and that the court should not disregard the interests of employees who may not share their employers’ religious beliefs.


The cases accepted include Zubik v. Burwell; Priests for Life v. Department of HHS; Roman Catholic Archbiship v. Burwell; Texas Baptist University v. Burwell; Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell; Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell; and Geneva College v. Burwell.


Oral arguments are expected to be held in March 2016.

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