A federal court on Friday ruled against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate, the first court to side with its opponents. The decision isn’t final, but the move could represent a breakthrough for conservatives determined to overturn the regulation made possible by the Affordable Care Act.
A federal district judge in Colorado issued a temporary injunction permitting Hercules Industries, an air-conditioning company based in the state, not to abide by the rule until the courts reach a decision on the merits of the case. The business owner, a Catholic who opposes contraception, argued that the mandate violates his religious liberty.
Carter-appointed Judge John Kane ruled (PDF) that Hercules raised serious enough questions about the validity of the mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to be given injunctive relief. The 1993 law says the government may not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” — that laws that clash with religious freedoms be justified by compelling government interest and be narrowly tailored to meet that interest.
Kane made it clear that the temporary injunction only applies to Hercules.
“This injunction is, however, premised upon the alleged substantial burden on Plaintiffs’ free exercise of religion — not to any alleged burden on any other party’s free exercise of religion,” he wrote in his opinion. “It does not enjoin enforcement of the preventive care coverage mandate against any other party.”
Numerous entities have unsuccessfully sued to block the contraception rule. The Colorado court’s move could yet be anticlimactic if it ends up validating the requirement on the merits. But if not, the ruling portends a series of legal fights that might end up in the Supreme Court.
The rule, set to to take effect next week, requires employee health insurance plans to cover contraception for women without co-pays, along with other preventive services. It exempts houses of worship, and grants religious nonprofits a one-year extension along with the freedom to pass the cost of the birth control to the insurance company.
The mandate was the subject of a heated debate earlier this spring when Republicans mounted a legislative push to repeal it. They backed off after losing control of the debate and taking a hit among women voters. Just over three months from Election Day, GOP leaders aren’t interested in wading back into the fight. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) last week signaled that his party won’t take legislative action against the mandate.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.