The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — the second most influential bench in the land behind the Supreme Court — ruled 2-1 in favor of business owners who are fighting the requirement that they provide their employees with health insurance that covers birth control.
Requiring companies to cover their employees’ contraception, the court ruled, is unduly burdensome for business owners who oppose birth control on religious grounds, even if they are not purchasing the contraception directly.
“The burden on religious exercise does not occur at the point of contraceptive purchase; instead, it occurs when a company’s owners fill the basket of goods and services that constitute a healthcare plan,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote on behalf of the court.
The split ruling against the government on Friday was the latest in a string of court cases challenging the healthcare law’s mandate.
Friday’s ruling centered on two Catholic brothers, Francis and Philip Gilardi, who own a 400-person produce company based in Ohio.
The brothers oppose contraception as part of their religion and challenged the Affordable Care Act provision requiring them to provide insurance that covers their employees' birth control.
Refusing to abide by the letter of the law, they said, would result in a $14 million fine.
“They can either abide by the sacred tenets of their faith, pay a penalty of over $14 million, and cripple the companies they have spent a lifetime building, or they become complicit in a grave moral wrong,” Brown wrote.
The Obama administration said that the requirement is necessary to protect women’s right to decide whether and when to have children.
The judges were unconvinced, however, that forcing companies to cover contraception protected that right.
Brown wrote that “it is clear the government has failed to demonstrate how such a right — whether described as noninterference, privacy, or autonomy — can extend to the compelled subsidization of a woman’s procreative practices.”