On Friday, a federal appeals court in Washington D.C. handed a substantial victory to the Obama administration, finding that the exemption they created for non-profit employers with religious objections to birth control was just fine. The decision was written by Judge Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, who pro-life groups already can't stand, because she's written that reproductive rights are protected under the Constitution. The gall.
This summer's Hobby Lobby ruling from the Supreme Court, which allowed companies with religious owners to opt out of providing birth control coverage, is, as we've previously established, an unholy mess. And there's a separate debate about whether people employed by religious non-profits, like colleges, universities, and hospitals, can get their birth control covered through Obamacare at all, which, surprise, many of those religious non-profits also don't like the sound of.
A little background on birth control's latest legal headache: in 2012, a group of religious non-profits, led by a Staten Island-based outfit called Priests for Life, sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying they were being forced to indirectly provide birth control to their employees. But as Irin Carmon writes over at MSNBC, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, led by Pillard, found on Friday that the work-around the Obama administration has suggested is constitutional: it allows non-profit employers with religious objections to opt out of providing birth control coverage by signing an opt-out form. The birth control is covered directly by the insurer, without involving the non-profit.
Pillard was appointed to the DC Circuit despite tremendous and frequently inaccurate protests from Senate Republicans calling her a "radical feminist" and outlets like LifeNews calling her "hostile to unborn children" and "a very dangerous person to put in a seat on America's second most powerful court." In her decision, Judge Pillard wrote that the religious non-profits wouldn't be required to do anything that goes against their faith:
Plaintiffs' objection rests on their religious belief that "they may not provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to contraception, sterilization, abortion, or related counseling in a manner that violates the teachings of the Catholic Church." But the regulations do not compel them to do any of those things. Instead, the accommodation provides Plaintiffs a simple, one-step form for opting out and washing their hands of any involvement in providing insurance coverage for contraceptive services.
Simple, right? Pillard adds, "The challenged regulations seek to ensure timely and effective access to contraception for all women who want it and for whom it is medically appropriate."
Priests for Life is predictably steamed, calling the ruling "absurd," and adding, in bold, "Priests for Life will not obey the mandate! Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever!" They're vowing to take their case to the Supreme Court, because that, apparently, is better than ever letting someone else provide birth control for the people who work for you.
Pillard in 2013. Photo via AP Images