Court rules against religious nonprofits in contraception mandate case

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Religiously affiliated employers have been given an appropriate method to opt out of providing contraception insurance coverage to their workers, a U.S. appeals court ruled Friday. The issue is of concern to certain long-term care providers, and Catholic nursing home organization the Little Sisters of the Poor is challenging the government in a similar case.

In the decision handed down Friday, a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., ruled against two other Catholic groups, Priests for Life and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington. Like the Little Sisters, the groups claim that in certifying that they will not provide contraception coverage on moral grounds, they in fact would trigger the process by which their employees would gain the coverage through other means. Thus, even if these organizations are not paying for the coverage, they would effectively be authorizing it.

The judges determined that the opt-out process does not place a substantial burden on their religious beliefs, according to Reuters. This is the third time an appeals court has ruled in the government's favor in a case against the Affordable Care Act's so-called contraception mandate. The matter could be taken up by the Supreme Court.

Oral arguments in the Little Sisters case are scheduled for Dec. 8 in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

The Supreme Court in June ruled against the government in a contraception mandate challenge brought by the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores. Although Hobby Lobby is a closely-held for-profit corporation, some legal experts believe that the ruling bodes well for cases brought by nonprofits such as the Little Sisters of the Poor.