Court deals new blow to birth control mandate

A federal court on Friday granted almost 200 evangelical ministries an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate.

The ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma is the latest in a series of legal blows to the healthcare law’s requirement that workers be offered contraception as part of their employers' insurance coverage.

Under the ruling, 187 non-exempt religious groups that offer insurance through GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention are now exempt from the mandate while their case proceeds.

“This is an overwhelming victory for GuideStone and the nearly 200 plaintiffs in this class-action lawsuit,” said Adèle Keim, an attorney for GuideStone. “Today’s ruling will allow hundreds of Baptist ministries to continue preaching the Gospel and serving the poor this Christmas, without laboring under the threat of massive fines.”

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The mandate would have otherwise kicked in for the ministries on Jan. 1, forcing them to either to begin offering contraceptive coverage or face penalties.

The ministries object to four out of 20 FDA-approved contraceptives, including the “morning after pill” and the “week after pill.” 

To date, there are currently 89 lawsuits challenging the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department's mandate, according to plaintiffs in the case.

Earlier this year, the Christian-owned craft chain Hobby Lobby won a victory in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals after arguing that it should not be forced to offer its employees health insurance that covers birth control,

The case was a major victory for opponents of the requirement, who say that it compels employers who object to contraception to violate their principles.

The Oklahoma court cited that cases in Friday’s ruling, concluding that the defendant — the Department of Health and Human Services — was relying on the same flawed arguments.

“Upon consideration, the Court finds Defendants’ argument to be simply another variation of a proposition rejected by the court of appeals in Hobby Lobby,” the court found.

Ultimately, the matter is widely expected to be decided by the Supreme Court, which agreed last month to hear a challenge to the mandate.