Last week a federal court in Pennsylvania rejected yet another challenge to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage regulations. This challenge was a bit different than many of the others: it was brought by a non-religious organization and its three employees. The organization claims that it is morally opposed to birth control and that the Equal Protection Clause entitles it to the same exemption as houses of worship; the employees claim that they have a right, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to exclude contraceptives from their own insurance coverage (even though nobody is forcing them to use the coverage). The plaintiffs are represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, which also represents March for Life in a similar lawsuit in federal court in Washington, DC.
There's a lot to discuss in this decision, and I cover it in more detail at Harvard Law School's Bill of Health blog. The court made one especially important point: the government has an interest in applying the contraceptive coverage regulations even to employees who are personally opposed to contraception:
Often, as is the case with Plaintiffs today, entire families are covered by one plan. Health care coverage decisions therefore are not left wholly to the individual but are often made in the context of the family. Yet there is no guarantee that every member of a family covered by a plan feels similarly regarding contraceptive services. If families with religious objections to contraceptive coverage are able to opt out of such coverage, the determination of whether to do so is left to the collective family unit. This collective decision could create untold tension and familial strife should disagreement over contraceptive coverage arise, which is more likely now that children up to the age of twenty-six may be covered by their parents’ plans.
In other words, the plaintiffs get to make their own medical decisions according to their own beliefs, but they don't get to control the personal medical decisions of their family members.
Greg Lipper (@theglipper) is Senior Litigation Counsel at Americans United.