In a defeat for the pro-life movement and pro-life centers everywhere, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled this week that a secular pregnancy center must comply with the Obamacare mandate that requires organizations to pay for drugs that cause abortions.
Real Alternatives, a pro-life organization based out of Pennsylvania, filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in regard to this mandate. The group provides abortion alternatives in Pennsylvania and elsewhere and, though a secular organization, sought to protect themselves from this mandate under religious exemption due to their moral opposition to abortion.
The three-judge panel, however, ruled that secular organizations do not qualify for the religious exemption, even if it is conscientiously and morally opposed to abortion. As the court’s majority opinion, written by Senior Third Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell, states:
Real Alternatives is in no way like a religious denomination or one of its nontheistic counterparts—not in structure, not in aim, not in purpose, and not in function…We do not doubt that Real Alternatives’s stance on contraceptives is grounded in sincerely-held moral values, but ‘religion is not generally confined to one question or one moral teaching; it has a broader scope.’
Dissenting judge Kent A. Jordan rebuked his colleagues:
According to the government, the mandate has nothing to do with deep questions about the beginning of life, or the boundaries of moral culpability, or about faith and one’s obligations to God…Religious beliefs are not being burdened in any meaningful sense, so people should just stop complaining. That is the line pressed by the United States Department of Justice, and it is the line accepted by my colleagues in the majority, but I reject it.
Real Alternatives has excluded abortion-inducing drugs from its health insurance plan since 2008. It was able to continue doing so until 2014 after being grandfathered against the requirements of the Obamacare mandate. However, the insurer they were using discontinued their plan, and Real Alternatives was not able to buy coverage that didn’t include such drugs.
Under Obamacare, health insurance plans must include different types of contraceptives, implanted devices, education and counseling, and “emergency contraception” such as Plan B and ella. Specific types of religious organizations are allowed an exemption, and those who wish to obtain contraceptives that work for such organizations must pay for them out of pocket.
While the Trump administration has reportedly submitted a rule which would end the Obamacare mandate, this has yet to officially take effect.
Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0