Americans United Urges Federal Appeals Court To Protect Birth Control Access

Church-State Watchdog Asks Tenth Circuit To Rule Against Non-Profit Religious Universities

April 15, 2014

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should rule against four sectarian universities requesting additional exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s so-called contraception mandate, Americans United for Separation for Church and State says.

Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oklahoma Baptist University and Mid-America Christian University are already exempt from the mandate and must only sign paperwork confirming their religious opposition to the mandate in order to receive exemptions. Once they do that, students, faculty and staff may access contraceptives through an independent third party insurance provider.

“No employer has the right to restrict workers’ access to health care,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “These religious universities already receive a generous exemption from the law. Their ability to live out their faith isn’t compromised by simply signing a piece of paper to receive that exemption.”

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed April 14, Americans United argued that the universities’ free exercise of religion is in no way burdened by completing the paperwork for the exemption.

“Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden of demonstrating that the challenged regulations force or substantially pressure them to violate their religious beliefs,” the brief read.

Instead, the burden would be placed primarily on female students, faculty and staff. “Granting Plaintiffs the relief they seek would undermine these personal autonomy interests by denying women access to needed contraceptives and to education and counseling about contraceptive methods,” the brief added.

In a similar case, a federal court ruled against the University of Notre Dame, which also argued that its religious exercise was burdened by complying with the exemption process for the contraception mandate. Americans United represented three anonymous female students in the case.

The brief was prepared by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Madison Fellow Caitlin E. O’Connell.