A U.S. appeals court ruled Thursday that the Affordable Care Act violates the rights of religiously affiliated employers because it compels them to help provide contraceptive coverage to employees.
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Parting ways with all other appeals courts that have considered the issue, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on Thursday issued a pair of decisions upholding orders by two lower courts barring the government from enforcing the law’s contraceptive provisions against a group of religiously affiliated employers.
The split in the circuit courts created makes it more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue in its coming term, which begins in October and runs through June. Several employers have already filed petitions with the court.
Obamacare forces employers to provide health insurance, including birth control and other preventative services for women, to employees. The law permits nonprofit groups with religious affiliations to opt out of paying for the contraceptive insurance, upon which insurers are required to separately provide the contraceptive coverage to employees at no extra cost.
Employers who do not take the appropriate channels to opt out face financial penalty.
Groups that have petitioned the opt-out provision argue that it still compels them to help provide contraception, an argument that has been rejected by all other appeals courts.
The employers in the suit decided Thursday argued that the opt-out process violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993.
In the decision, Circuit Judge Roger Wollman wrote that the court must defer to the employers’ "sincere religious belief that their participation in the accommodation process makes them morally and spiritually complicit in providing abortifacient coverage."