The Contraception Mandate Accommodated: Why the RFRA Claim in Zubik v. Burwell Fails
American Constitution Society Issue Brief, March 2016
14 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2016
Date Written: March 10, 2016
The Affordable Care Act requires that health care plans include all FDA-approved contraception without any cost sharing. In Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, for-profit businesses with religious objections successfully challenged this “contraception mandate.” In this term’s Zubik v. Burwell, it is religiously affiliated nonprofits like Baptist universities and Catholic Charities challenging the contraception benefit. But there is a major difference: these religiously affiliated nonprofits are exempt from the contraception mandate. Once they certify that they are religiously opposed to contraception and notify either their insurance carriers or the Department of Health and Human Services, the responsibility for contraception coverage shifts to private insurance companies. The nonprofits do not have to provide, pay for, or even inform their employees or students of the separate coverage.
Despite the ability to opt out of contraception coverage, many nonprofits complain that the religious accommodation itself imposes a substantial religious burden in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). According to these nonprofits, providing notice of their objections triggers the provision of contraception to their employees and students, thus making them complicit in sin. Their RFRA claim cannot succeed. RFRA requires that the contraception regulations impose a substantial religious burden and fail strict scrutiny, and neither requirement is met. First, filing paperwork to receive an exemption is not a substantial burden on the nonprofits’ religious exercise. The nonprofits’ claims to the contrary are based on a mistake of law, and while court must defer to the nonprofits’ interpretation of religious theology, courts should not defer to their interpretation of federal law. Second, the contraception mandate passes strict scrutiny: it advances compelling government interests in women’s health and equality, and the accommodation provided to objecting nonprofits is the least restrictive means of accomplishing those interests.
Keywords: Religious Freedom Restoration Act, RFRA, religious liberty, ACA, Obamacare, contraception mandate, Hobby Lobby, Zubik, substantial burden
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