WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Groups that legally challenged the Affordable
Care Act's contraception requirement for employers still do not have clear
direction on how to move forward because nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme
Court sent their cases back to the lower courts, the Justice Department
still is appealing some of them.
April 24, the Justice Department asked the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
for 60 more days to essentially pause the ruling in favor of East Texas
Baptist University and several other religious groups that had objected
moral grounds to providing contraceptive coverage in their employee
petition to the Fifth Circuit, the Justice Department said it was asking for
more time because the issues "presented by the Supreme Court's remand are
complex" and a several department positions remain unfilled.
request is a particularly surprising move for religious groups who were
confident the mandate would be done away with under the Trump administration, especially
because he promised that during his campaign.
government should dismiss its appeals right away. If they are against the mandate,
there's no reason to continue pushing these appeals," said Eric Rassbach,
deputy general counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Catholic News Service April 26 that for groups such as East Texas University and
the Little Sisters of the Poor, both represented by Becket, "it's a big
problem to be left lingering in limbo" and they shouldn't have to continue
to do this "while the government tries to figure out how it will move
forward on the president's promises."
In 2015, the Fifth Circuit ruled that religious organizations that do not wish to
provide coverage for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in their health
plans would not have to do so but would need to request an exemption from
that provision. The groups have objected to that requirement saying the additional
legal fees and paperwork to obtain the exemption "substantially burdens
their religious exercise under the law."
religious organizations impacted by the circuit court's decision include the Catholic
Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, the University of Dallas and Catholic Charities of
In May 2016, the Supreme Court sent combined cases against the
contraceptive mandate back to the lower courts, which cleared the slate from
their previous court rulings when five appeals courts had ruled in favor of the
contraceptive mandate and one ruled against it.
Supreme Court justices, at the time, expressed hope that both sides might be
able to work out a compromise, which has not happened.
2017, with Trump's presidency in place, religious groups opposed to the
mandate seemed confident they would get relief when either the Justice
Department stopped its appeal of the cases or the Trump administration
sought a rule change from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Texas Baptist University and other plaintiffs represented by Becket have asked
the Justice Department to drop its appeal of the court ruling that does not
require them to comply with the mandate.
litigation has gone on long enough," the plaintiffs wrote in a petition to
the Fifth Circuit. "It is time for the Department of Justice to move on,
and to allow the court, the universities and other religious ministries to move
on as well."