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Supreme Court Rules Some Employers Exempt from ACA Contraception Mandate - July 1, 2014

In a widely anticipated decision issued on June 30, 2014, the United States Supreme Court held that the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, as it applies to closely-held corporations, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Read the opinion.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations under the Affordable Care Act that required employees to provide coverage for identified methods of contraception. Religious employers and non-profits had previously challenged this so-called  “contraceptive mandate,” and the agency exempted these groups from complying with the mandate if they objected to it on religious grounds. Two private companies subsequently raised similar challenges, arguing that the mandate impermissibly burdened the owner’s religious beliefs.  

The Supreme Court, in a split 5-4 decision, held that even such closely held, for-profit businesses have protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  This 1993 law prohibits the government from “substantially burdening” unless the burden (i) furthers of a compelling interest and (ii) is the least restrictive means of doing so.  In this decision, a majority of the court held that the contraceptive mandate did not meet this high burden and thus the court struck down the mandate as it applied to those closely held corporations.