Four Roman Catholic nonprofits in New York must allow employees access to contraception, a federal appeals court panel ruled on Friday, reversing a decision by a lower court that allowed the organizations to get around a requirement in the Affordable Care Act.
Six other circuit courts around the country deciding on similar arguments involving religious groups have come to similar conclusions, the unanimous three-judge panel noted in its decision, which was written by Judge Rosemary S. Pooler for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York…
Under the Affordable Care Act, religious nonprofits that object on religious grounds to providing contraception can opt out by completing a one-page form. Then, a third party, either an insurance company or a health insurance administrator, takes over providing and coordinating payments for the employees’ contraceptives.
The four New York groups — a Catholic high school in the Bronx and another on Staten Island, as well as two Catholic health care systems — argued that the opt-out sheet imposed a “substantial burden” on their religious freedom. Either they had to offer “access to products and services they find objectionable,” as Judge Pooler summarized it, or they faced high fines…
…Judge Pooler wrote that the opt-out form was, in fact, “a modicum of paperwork” that “relieves, rather than imposes, any substantial burden” on the plaintiffs’ religious freedom.
“Eligible organizations are provided the opportunity to freely express their religious objection to such coverage as well as to extricate themselves from its provision,” she wrote. “At the same time, insured individuals are not deprived of the benefits of contraceptive coverage.”
As an alternative to the opt-out form, which is sent to the federal Labor Department, religious groups may send a letter to the federal Department of Health and Human Services “detailing their religious objections in their own words,” and the government would then notify insurance administrators…
Brigitte Amiri, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus brief in the case, said: “It’s a huge victory for all the female employees who work at the organizations. The scorecard is really 7-0 in the Courts of Appeals on this issue.”
It’s also another victory for Americans who believe that our Constitution even in early days was a document that guaranteed freedom from religions interfering with civil rights, individually and collectively. Although a few generations of cowards and opportunist politicians in Congress and the White House have diminished the strength of those freedoms – obviously, there are individuals with integrity still within the judicial portion of our government.
Certainly, we run the continued risk of conservative ideologues – and demagogues – trying to defeat that protection through political maneuvering. Again, via Congress and the White House. As limited as we may be by the device of an institutionalized 2-party political system, the electoral college and state-based limitations on voting rights, we must utilize every avenue available to us to protect our rights.
Fortunately, my personal convictions do not include treating my right to vote as a religion. I need not and do not limit that activity to standards of purity. It’s as limited as so many aspects of our life by the choices we have available. That includes the limits of an ignorant, lazy-ass body politic.