Today, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in seven cases, all challenging the federal health care law’s contraceptive mandate. In this challenge, the Petitioners are religiously-affiliated hospitals, charities, and educational institutions who are provided an exemption in the health care law. Importantly, however, this particular exemption is not automatic, like it is for churches and non-profits. Instead, these religiously-affiliated groups must notify the government of their intent to invoke the exemption before electing not to comply, lest they face the heavy fines outlined in the law. Once the groups invoke the exclusion, the government takes over, working with insurance companies to provide the free contraceptives that the ACA guarantees. Petitioners argue, however, that even requiring them to invoke the exclusion renders them complicit in providing contraceptive coverage. They contend that, like churches and religious non-profits, they should be included in the blanket exemption, excluding them from the process entirely.
Against this backdrop, in the collective group of cases, likely set for hearing in March, the Court will address the precise legal issue of whether the federal government’s opt-out process for religiously-affiliated organizations violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). In deciding that issue, the Court will consider the institutions’ legal argument that the law’s opt-out process is not the “least restrictive means” for the government to effect its goal of providing free birth control to female workers, the standard that the RFRA requires.
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