FederalHealthcareTexas Court Rules Against Obamacare’s Contraception Mandate, In Favor of Plaintiffs’ Religious Liberty

An Amarillo couple leading a religious liberty challenge against Obamacare's contraception mandate just won a big victory in a U.S. district court.
June 7, 2019
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On Wednesday, a U. S. district court judge in Fort Worth ruled against the enforcement of the so-called “contraception mandate” within Obamacare.

The case, DeOtte et al v. Azar, was filed six months ago on the grounds that the plaintiffs are being forced between buying health insurance that compromises their religious beliefs or going without insurance and suffering a penalty.

Richard DeOtte is from Amarillo and currently resides in South Lake as a self-employed civil engineer. His religious, biblically-grounded beliefs hold that life is precious from the moment of conception, and that sexual activity is reserved for and exclusively between a married couple.

In DeOtte et al v. Azar, the individual plaintiffs, “Have opted to forego health insurance rather than pay for insurance that subsidizes abortifacient contraception.”

DeOtte posted online that he and his wife “oppose abortion which is the killing of innocent human life. And while we aren’t opposed to all birth control, we are opposed to birth control that operates as an abortifacient.”

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Among Obamacare’s many health insurance regulations, the so-called “contraception mandate” forces insurance policies to cover “all FDA-approved contraceptive methods,” which includes abortifacient or potentially abortifacient birth control.

The ruling from Judge Reed O’Connor, the same judge who ruled Obamacare unconstitutional last year, was built on previous cases and rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

Decided in June 2014, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby held the “contraceptive mandate” violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). The Supreme Court held that making a family-owned business choose between providing objected-to contraception or paying a penalty violates RFRA.

The Hobby Lobby ruling, however, was relatively narrow in its implications in that it only applied to family-owned or “closely-held” corporations.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns that run homes for the elderly poor, repeatedly petitioned in 2011 for exemption from the “contraception mandate,” but the Obama administration refused to grant them reasonable protection from the rule.

Their case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Azar, was cited in O’Connor’s ruling, wherein the Supreme Court unanimously ordered the government to not fine the Little Sisters.

Instead, the Supreme Court instructed the lower courts to allow the government to find an alternative way to provide services to the women who want contraceptives that would not subject the Little Sisters to the mandate. 

Last November, the Department of Health and Human Services, under directives from President Trump, issued a final rule that carved out religious ministries such as the Little Sisters from the mandate in a seeming work-around to comply with the SCOTUS ruling.

However, in January, a California judge issued an injunction freezing the new religious exemption rule from going into effect in 13 largely Democrat-led states challenging the administration’s religious exemption provision.

Indeed, just yesterday, the Little Sisters were back in court to fend off the lawsuit by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, both of whom are seeking to reverse the Sisters’ exemption from the HHS contraception mandate in the 13 states challenging the administration’s new rule.

The Texan reached out to Becket, the public-interest legal and educational institute defending the Sisters, but did not receive a comment in time for this piece.

On the Texas court victory, DeOtte said, “This is a permanent injunction against enforcement of the contraceptive mandate against any employer or individuals with sincerely held religious objections.”

“Everyone in America is now free to purchase health insurance that excludes contraception if their religious convictions prevent them from supporting abortifacient or potentially abortifacient contraception. This is a big win for religious freedom.”

The Trump administration has asked for a safe harbor for officials who enforce the mandate.

This is to help federal officials identify and ascertain whether those in the same class as Mr. DeOtte truly qualify under a religious exemption so as to prevent the government from being held in contempt of court.

The plaintiffs have said such a safe harbor should be created so long as the federal officials enforcing the mandate and a potential class-wide religious exemption operate in good faith.

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Tony Guajardo

Tony Guajardo

Tony Guajardo is a reporter for The Texan. He has been involved in politics since the fall of 2012 when he served as an intern for the now-retired U.S. Congressman Charlie Gonzalez (D-San Antonio). He is a native of Fort Worth, Texas and graduated from Texas A&M University.