Federal appeals court could still overturn Obamacare birth control mandate

By David Ferguson
Friday, June 28, 2013 11:38 EDT
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Hobby Lobby store via Flickr
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A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is violating the religious freedom of private companies by obligating their insurers to cover the cost of birth control for women policyholders. According to NBC News, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that Christian-owned business The Hobby Lobby and its subsidiary, Mardel Stores are not liable for the fines they incurred by violating the birth control statute in the ACA.

The Court invoked a 1993 law called The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that said that citizens are not required to follow federal laws that place an undue burden on their religious faith.

“We hold that Hobby Lobby and Mardel are entitled to bring claims under RFRA, have established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm,” read Thursday’s decision.

Several religious groups and employers have sought to be exempted from the birth control requirement in the ACA, claiming that allowing women to prevent pregnancy is a violation of “god’s law.” Hobby Lobby and Mardel say that their business practices are founded on “honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

The Obama administration argued in the Hobby Lobby case that private, for-profit companies cannot use the RFRA to duck their obligations under Obamacare.

“The context of RFRA makes it abundantly clear that Congress did not give for-profit corporations the right to evade federal regulation in the name of their shareholders’ religious freedom,” argued the Justice Department. “As Congress understood, extending religious exemptions to for-profit corporations would impermissibly advance religion to the detriment of the employees, who are autonomous human beings with rights and beliefs of their own.”

The case has been sent back to the Oklahoma City Federal District Court, where currently Hobby Lobby is expected to get its way, forcing women it employs to pay out of pocket in order to control their own reproductive lives.

Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and head of Hobby Lobby’s team of lawyers in this case, called Thursday’s ruling, “a tremendous victory not only for (Hobby Lobby), but also for many other religious business owners who should not have to forfeit their faith to make a living.”

However, Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said that the decision enables “the worst kind of religious oppression” and said, “This court has taken a huge step toward handing bosses and company owners a blank check to meddle in the private medical decisions of their workers.”

[image via Fan of Retail's Flickr Photostream, Creative Commons licensed]

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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