In a notable legal victory in December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit kept alive the lawsuits filed by North Carolina’s Belmont Abbey College as well as Illinois’ Wheaton College. The appellate court, often considered the nation’s second most powerful, also set firm deadlines for the Obama administration to write the promised provisions protecting those with religious objections.
The three-page appellate court ruling, issued Dec. 18, ordered the administration to report every 60 days on its progress in revising the contraception-mandate rules. The appellate court also said it took as a “binding commitment” Justice Department promises that a proposed new rule would be ready before April.
Justice Department attorneys further pledged that the revised final rule will be ready by August.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the courts should overturn the requirement because it violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which he helped push through in 1993.
“Freedom of religion and the right of peoples of faith to be protected against government intrusion must be sacrosanct,” Hatch said. “Unfortunately, this White House doesn’t seem to believe in that constitutional guarantee.”
Administration officials declined to comment on the lawsuits or to say whether the revised rules are a response to the litigation.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act required all employers to cover birth control without co-payments as part of a package of preventive health benefits for women, such as mammograms. Churches were exempt, but not many religious institutions or family businesses.
Last February, in an effort to quell a growing firestorm, the administration said that insurers – not religious institutions – would provide supplemental coverage for contraception at no cost.
The move didn’t satisfy critics, who complained that the change still allowed for premiums to cover the contraceptives and failed to address companies that self-insure.
Michael Doyle contributed to this report.