On November 1, 2013, the DC circuit appellate court struck down part of the Obamacare mandate that requires employers with over 50 employees to provide health coverage for their workers. Struck down was the part of the mandate requiring coverage of all birth control methods approved by the FDA.
Lawyers argued the case of Gilardi v. HHS on September 24, 2013. The Gilardis brought the appeal after a lower court ruled the requirement under the Affordable Care Act was constitutional.
Providing Contraceptives Goes Against Religious Beliefs of the Appellants
The plaintiffs, appellants before the Court of Appeals, are Philip and Francis Gilardi. The brothers are the owners of Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics. The companies employ nearly 400 people.
The company, founded in 1988 and located in Sidney, Ohio, provides fresh-cut produce to businesses in 25 states, located in the east. Beginning with a factory of 7,000 square feet in 1988, the company now has a building comprising 100,000 square feet, making it one of the largest regional fresh-cut produce suppliers in the country.
The company is a closely held corporation.
The Gilardis are Catholics and the use of birth control, sterilization methods and abortion violates their religious beliefs. It is for this reason, the employers began an action to obtain an exemption to that part of the Obamacare mandate that requires them to provide contraception coverage to all their employees.
Mandate Interferes with Right to Exercise of Religion, Say Gilardis
The Gilardi brothers commenced an action asking for an injunction, preventing them from having to comply with that part of the mandate that deals with birth control, sterilization and abortion. They argued compliance with the employer mandate breaches their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The RFRA states the government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion if the burden results from a law of general applicability, except when it is in the furtherance of a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive method of furthering that interest.
The Gilardis also argued applying that part of the mandate to them violates the Free Exercise and Free Speech clauses of the Constitution as well as the Administrative Procedure Act.
Interference with Religion is Indirect, Says Obama Justice Department
The Justice Department argued religious rights are individual rights and corporations can’t exercise them, saying that it’s the company that has to pay for the mandate, not the brothers. Corporations, even those that are closely held, cannot hold or exercise religious beliefs, therefore the law does not infringe on any religious rights. This means any required coverage was indirect; the company pays for it, not the brothers.
Regarding the RRFA, the government argued even if corporations can hold religious beliefs, the birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act is a compelling government interest. The mandate is necessary to safeguard public health, avoid negative consequences to women and fetuses, and to protect the rights of women to their autonomy. Therefore even if there is a breach, it is the least restrictive way of carrying out the compelling government interest and is lawful.
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