NEW YORK (AP) — Another federal appeals court Friday ruled against Catholic church-affiliated groups that oppose being required to provide contraceptive care to employees through a third party.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a Brooklyn judge's ruling affecting over 25,000 employees at two high schools, six hospitals, three nursing homes and several nonprofits.
The appeals court in Manhattan said an Affordable Care Act provision that lets religion-related entities put the burden for providing contraceptive care services on third parties does not erode religious rights.
The Obama administration has promoted a provision of the health care overhaul that includes contraception in a package of cost-free preventive care benefits. Opponents have said it is an attack on the religious freedom of employers.
In a decision written by Judge Rosemary Pooler, the 2nd Circuit noted that six other appeals circuits have rejected similar cases brought for religious reasons since Judge Brian Cogan ruled in Brooklyn in December 2013. Four of those cases have been appealed to the Supreme Court.
A three-judge appeals panel said the only obligation placed on religious entities was to identify themselves as religious objectors by completing an opt-out form or letter.
"Through a modicum of paperwork, an eligible organization throws the entire administrative and financial burden of providing contraceptive coverage on its insurer or third-party administrator, generally organizations with no objection to providing contraceptive coverage," the panel said.
The appeals court noted that the Supreme Court in a decision related to the Affordable Care Act has said the accommodation effectively exempts eligible organizations from the contraceptive coverage mandate.
"Assessing this obligation objectively, we cannot conclude that the simple act of completing the notification form imposes a substantial burden on plaintiffs' religious exercise," the 2nd Circuit said. "As with other religious objectors, there must be some method by which the government can be notified of the objection. Otherwise there is no way that the government can know which organizations it needs to accommodate. Here, the government has provided flexible, largely effortless, and essentially cost-free options for notification."
It said it was not a substantial burden on religious rights "even if the religious objector sincerely finds the ultimate actions taken by the government and third parties offensive."
Once they opt-out, organizations are not required to play any role in the provision of contraceptive coverage or to be punished for not doing so, the 2nd Circuit noted.
"To the contrary, the accommodation relieves them of providing contraceptive coverage, and instead enlists third-party administrators to provide such coverage," the appeals court said.
Lawyers for Catholic schools and organizations that challenged the law did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed papers in the case, praised the ruling. ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri said it "sends a clear message that an employer's religious beliefs can't be used to deny health care benefits to employees."