A federal judge in New York ruled that a group of religious schools and health systems do not have to provide their employees with contraception coverage as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The decision in The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, et al., v Sebelius, 12-cv-2542, issued by US District Judge Brian Cogan, was applauded by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
The ACA requires that group health plans cover certain preventative services without cost sharing, including coverage for contraception, sterilization and related education and counseling (the "Coverage Mandate" or "Mandate"). While certain religious employers (primarily churches) are exempt from the Coverage Mandate, other religious non-profit groups, such as Catholic hospitals, are not. To accommodate the religious beliefs of such groups, these organizations can self-certify their objection to contraception coverage on religious grounds and have an insurance company or third party administrator provide the coverage without charging the organization and without imposing any cost sharing on plan participants.
This accommodation was not sufficient for several New York organizations affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church who argued that the Mandate would require them to violate core religious beliefs, regardless of the religious exemption and the accommodation for eligible faith-based organizations. The plaintiffs in the case, The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, Cardinal Spellman High School, Monsignor Farrell High School, the Catholic Health Care System (ArchCare) and Catholic Health Services of Long Island, challenged the Mandate on the grounds of religious freedom.
In his decision, Judge Cogan noted that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre are exempt from the Mandate as religious employers. Cogan's decision also bars the US Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing the Mandate against the remaining plaintiffs because it violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The opinion states the groups "have demonstrated that the mandate, despite accommodation, compels them to perform acts that are contrary to their religion. There can be no doubt that the coercive pressure here is substantial."
In a statement, Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling stated, "The court has correctly cut through the artificial construct which essentially made faith-based organizations other than churches and other houses of worship second class citizens with second class First Amendment protections."
The decision may be appealed by the federal government.