Missouri court: Yes, the feds can mandate contraceptive coverage

October 1, 2012

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A number of lawsuits, challenging the health law's required coverage of contraceptives, are winding their way up through the federal court system. A few have seen preliminary rulings on ripeness (whether the case can even be brought yet) and standing (whether the people bringing the suit have actually suffered damage).

A court in Missouri today became the first to rule on a lawsuit's merits: Whether, as the case argues, the contraceptives mandate is a violation of the First Amendment freedom to practice religion. In a ruling written by George Bush-appointee Carol Jackson, the Eastern District of Missouri court found the health law provision to be constitutional. 

You can read the full 29-page opinion here. The main thrust of the opinion though, is this: The requirement that employers cover contraceptives does not represent a substantial burden on employers' ability to practice religion. Here's one key paragraph, that starts with the man bringing the case, Frank O'Brien:

Frank O’Brien is not prevented from keeping the Sabbath, from providing a religious upbringing for his children, or from participating in a religious ritual such as communion. Instead, plaintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives.

 

The burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by OIH’s plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs’ religion.

 

This Court rejects the proposition that requiring indirect financial support of a practice, from which plaintiff himself abstains according to his religious principles, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiff’s religious exercise.

The Missouri company that brought this lawsuit has already filed an appeal to this ruling. There are about three dozen other lawsuits out there making similar challenges. This might be the first ruling on this issue, but it's certainly not the last.

 

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Ezra Klein · October 1, 2012