For those of us in need of some good news for women’s health, the D.C. Circuit Court just came through. In the first Circuit Court decision since Hobby Lobby, a unanimous panel of the D.C. Circuit said [PDF] that non-profit organizations that object to providing birth control don’t get out of complying with the birth control coverage requirement of the federal health care law.
Specifically, the non-profit organizations – including Catholic University – were challenging the “accommodation” provided to them. Non-profit organizations that qualify for the accommodation do not have to provide employees with birth control coverage. Instead, they simply have to send a form to HHS or their insurance company saying they object to covering birth control. The insurance company then provides the birth control coverage without cost-sharing directly to the employees and students. In other words, as the court said, the non-profits need only “complete the written equivalent of raising a hand in response to the government’s query as to which religious organizations want to opt out…. Other entities step in and fill the gap” to ensure women get the benefit.
But in this case and others across the country [PDF], the non-profits say this is not enough—that filling out the form violates their religious beliefs. They want a total exemption from the law, and don’t want the women who work for them or who study with them to get birth control coverage. The D.C. Circuit made it clear that just because these non-profits don’t like the idea of anybody using birth control, that doesn’t mean they can claim religious freedom as a way to stop third-parties from providing women with the benefit to which they are legally entitled.
The Court also took the time to make clear how important it is for women to get birth control covered through their regular insurance. The court explains that birth control helps women in many ways—birth control can not only “promote and improve women’s health,” it also furthers equality and allows women “equal enjoyment of their right to personal autonomy.” Of course this is why we love the contraceptive coverage provision and the ACA and have fought so hard for it all along!
Because of the D.C. Circuit’s decision, female employees, dependents, and students of these organizations will have birth control coverage regardless of the religious objections of their non-profit employers. We know from talking to some of those women what a difference it will make in their lives. We applaud the D.C. Circuit for ensuring that religious beliefs are not used to discriminate against women.