Texas Judge Exempts Colleges from ACA Mandate For Believing Contraceptives Cause Abortion

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On Friday, Judge Lee Rosenthal, a United States District Court Judge appointed by George H. W. Bush granted East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, and Westminster Theological Seminary an injunction that will exempt them from the contraceptive coverage required under the Affordable Care Act. The judge found that even the amended requirements for religious organizations were not enough to safeguard their religious liberty, as any involvement (even bureaucratic paperwork) in the provision of certain contraceptive services makes them culpable in creating access to abortion.

Judge Rosenthal's decision is entirely based on the beliefs of the universities and seminary about conception and the way that certain contraceptives work. Because these organizations believe that Plan B and IUD's cause abortions they are exempt from provisions in the Affordable Care Act meant to ensure that all Americans have access to preventative healthcare. To be clear: their beliefs about how medicine works – not the way medicine actually works – are the basis for this injunction.

More on Judge Rosenthal's decision below the jump. In her opinion, Judge Rosenthal explains that the three plaintiffs “believe” that emergency contraception (such as Plan B or Ella) and copper IUDs cause abortions by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. They also believe that by being complicit in anything that provides access to these drugs, even if it isn't through their health insurance, they become culpable for the abortion that they believe takes place.

In creating better standards for health insurance, the Affordable Care Act recognizes the importance of preventative healthcare in reducing healthcare costs and maintaining a better quality of life. The provision of particular concern for these universities is the requirement that health insurance plans cover provide free access to contraceptives such as Plan B and the copper IUD as preventative healthcare. Both services are incredibly effective methods of preventing pregnancy, and increasing access to these methods of contraception could be revolutionary for reproductive health across the country.  

The Obama Administration had to create a set of exemptions for religious organizations opposed to providing contraceptive coverage, and “self certification” was the compromise reached for religious organizations who qualify. It guarantees that no money from the organization will in any way be involved in the provision of contraceptive services to employees, while still allowing those employees to receive these services free of charge under the Affordable Care Act. According to the universities, seminary, and Judge Rosenthal, this just isn't enough. Rosenthal wrote,

The plaintiffs argue that the accommodation forces them to take actions that make them complicit in what they believe to be immoral conduct, coerced by the threat of ruinous fines if they do not fill out the self-certification and provide it to their issuer or TPA.

In her opinion, Rosenthal found that even filling out paperwork that would allow employees to request contraception coverage completely separate from their health insurance provided through their employer was too much of a burden for these religious organizations. Her decision was based on an interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which protects the right to free religious practice. According to Rosenthal, “some have equated RFRA to a constitutional right.” Clearly, the actual constitutional right to legal, safe abortions (if we are following the definition of abortion provided by the plaintiffs, which includes the use of emergency contraception and copper IUD's) is not as important to Judge Rosenthal.  


About Author

Genevieve Cato

Genevieve Cato is a feminist activist and a native Texan. While not writing for the Burnt Orange Report, she can be found working for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, serving as a community member of the Communications Committee for the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, and drinking copious amounts of pretentious local craft beers.

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