Court Orders HHS to Exempt Pro-Lifers From Abortion Drug Mandate

Federal judge rules March for Life can’t be required to provide birth control

Pro-life activists attend the March For Life in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22, 2015 / AP

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A federal judge granted March for Life an exemption from the Obamacare birth control mandate on Monday, citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as the Fifth Amendment.

March for Life sponsors an annual rally attended by tens of thousands of abortion opponents. The organization and Alliance Defending Freedom sued the Department of Health and Human Services after the agency refused to exempt it from sponsoring insurance plans that featured contraception that can in some cases induce abortions after conception.

Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the religious employer exemption should apply to the organization.

"If the purpose of the religious employer exemption is, as HHS states, to respect the anti-abortifacient tenets of an employment relationship, then it makes no rational sense-indeed, no sense whatsoever to deny March for Life that same respect," Leon wrote. "Defendants are hereby permanently ENJOINED from enforcing against plaintiff March for Life, its health insurance issuer, and the insurance issuer(s) of employee plaintiffs … the statutes and regulations requiring a health insurance issuer to include contraceptive coverage in plaintiffs’ health insurance plans."

March for Life’s attorney’s celebrated the case as a win for conscience rights over government mandates.

"Pro-life organizations should not be forced into betraying the very values they were established to advance," said Matt Bowman in a release. "This is especially true of March for Life, which was founded to uphold life, not to assist in taking it. The government has no right to demand that organizations provide health insurance plan options that explicitly contradict their mission."

Judge Leon dismissed claims from the Obama administration that granting a religious freedom exemption for March for Life would "all but lead to the end of group health coverage."

"Please!" the judge said in his response.

"Defendant’s parade of horribles necessarily looks beyond the employee plaintiffs in this particular case and purports to project what would happen if other individuals assert similar objections. However, defendants seem to envisage a world in which the government would require third-party insurance companies to provide coverage in every possible form requested by an individual on religious grounds. That, most assuredly, is not the action the Court is taking here," he said in his ruling..

The department did not return a request for comment or answer questions about why the exemption was not granted.

Bowman’s co-counsel, Kevin Theriot, said that the case came down to government coercion and whether the department could force a non-profit organization to act contrary to its mission.

"Americans should not be forced to choose between following their deepest convictions and submitting to unlawful and unnecessary government mandates. We hope other courts that consider similar cases will issue their own orders upholding the right of pro-life organizations to be free from this type of government coercion," he said.

The judge denied the group’s First Amendment claim that the mandate violated the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution because the mandate is "neutral and generally applicable."

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He lives in Alexandria, Va, with his wife and three daughters. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is mcmorris@freebeacon.com.

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