Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Blocks Contraceptive Mandate

In the broadest ruling so far by a federal appeals court barring enforcement of the so-called contraceptive mandate in the new federal health care law, a divided Seventh Circuit Court panel decided on November 8, 2013 to block the mandate that requires companies to provide contraceptive coverage in group health-care plans for employees. The mandate applies to companies that provide their employees with health insurance under group plans.  While the law and government regulations provide some exemptions from the mandate for churches and other strictly religious entities, there are no exemptions for profit-making businesses. The plaintiffs sued the federal government in 2012, arguing that it placed a burden on their practice of religion in violation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the free-exercise and free-speech clauses of the First Amendment. The Justice Department, which is charged with defending the mandate in court, has argued that for-profit companies have no religious rights.

The 2-1 decision ruled on behalf of two closely held profit-making companies and their Roman Catholic owners, who claimed the mandate violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This decision is the first to issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the measure. The Seventh Circuit's ruling contrasts with the decision earlier this month by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which held there was "no basis for concluding a secular organization can exercise religion." Still, the D.C. court said the owners of produce-distribution companies in Ohio could challenge the mandate as a burden on their own beliefs. 

The full decision, 64 pages in the majority ruling, 90 pages in the dissent, can be found here.

For questions, please contact Laura MacDonald at