A federal court on Friday ruled that the health care law’s mandate that employers provide free coverage for contraception infringed on individual religious liberty.
The case, Gilardi v. the Department of Health and Human Services, was the latest setback for the Obama administration as it struggles to fix the crippled insurance enrollment website, HealthCare.gov. However, the fight over the mandate long preceded the law’s enactment and will most likely go to the Supreme Court.The mandate “trammels the right of free exercise,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for a divided three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.The ruling was largely in line with most others around the country so far. Of nearly 40 challenges, only a handful of courts have upheld the government’s requirement that employer health plans provide free birth control, emergency contraception and sterilization.Francis A. Gilardi Jr. and Philip M. Gilardi, brothers from Sidney, Ohio, should not have to provide contraception coverage to employees of the companies they own if it goes against their Catholic faith, the court ruled. However, those companies themselves, Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics, do not have the right to challenge the mandate on religious grounds, the court said.As a result, the ruling was only a “partial victory” for mandate opponents, according to a statement from the American Center for Law and Justice, which represented the Gilardis. The organization said it planned to ask the Supreme Court to settle the question.“While this is a victory for the individual plaintiffs,” said Francis J. Manion, who argued the case, “the appeals court rejected a critical argument that the rights of the companies be protected as well.”