U.S. Third Circuit - The FindLaw 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Court: Secular Anti-Abortion Organization Must Offer Contraception Coverage

Few judges will offer an opinion about religious issues with abortion or contraception before being appointed to the federal bench, but it is another matter after confirmation.

In Real Alternatives, Inc. v. Secretary Department of Health and Human Services, Judge Kent A. Jordan had no problem expressing his opinion. In the 115-page decision, he stretched his dissent over 55 pages to say that employees should not be compelled to pay for insurance coverage that offends their religious beliefs.

"What my colleagues fail to appreciate is that coercing financial support for something deeply objectionable is a real and substantial burden, and a forced signature alone can be problematic," he said. "In matters of conscience, the signing of one's name is more than a scrawl on paper."

Non-Religious, Anti-Abortion

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court judgment, saying secular anti-abortion organizations must cover birth control in employees' insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

A trial judge had dismissed a challenge to the Obamacare mandate under the Equal Protection Clause filed by Real Alternatives, a secular organization that offers pregnancy support services. The appeals court said the organization was not exempt under the Act's religious exemption

"We do not doubt that Real Alternatives's stance on contraceptives is grounded in sincerely-held moral values, but 'religion is not generally confined to one question or one moral teaching; it has a broader scope,'" Judge Joseph Greenway Jr. wrote for the court.

Jordan joined the majority in that part of the decision. However, he sharply rebuked his colleagues on a second issue: whether an employee's religious beliefs are substantially burdened by the law's requirement that his or her employer's insurance plan cover contraceptives.

Jordan's Rebuke

Individual employees of the company argued that the contraceptive mandate violates the Church Amendment, which protects those who conscientiously object to contraception or abortion. They also said mandating a health insurance plan that covers contraceptives through their employer violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The majority said the mandate was not a substantial burden on their religious rights. Jordan chided the government for dismissing those rights and saying people should "just stop complaining."

"According to the government, the mandate has nothing to do with deep questions about the beginning of life, or the boundaries of moral culpability, or about faith and one's obligations to God," he wrote. "That is the line pressed by the United States Department of Justice, and it is the line accepted by my colleagues in the majority, but I reject it."

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