Amid a flurry of court rulings, strict fines kicked in last week for employers that refuse to abide by the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraceptive mandate. However, recent judges' opinions on the mandate—which, among other things, requires insurance coverage of emergency contraceptives that religious conservatives believe act as abortifacients—have been anything but unanimous.
On December 20, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied an injunction to one of the highest-profile plaintiffs, Hobby Lobby. The court concluded that concerns by the craft chain's owners, the evangelical philanthropist Green family, that "funds [might] subsidize someone else's participation in an activity condemned by plaintiff[s'] religion" were not a substantial burden to the Greens' religious exercise.
But one week later, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals explicitly disagreed, stating that the Tenth Circuit "misunderstands the substance of the claim." In a ruling granting an injunction to a for-profit construction company, the Seventh Circuit wrote, "The religious‐liberty violation at issue here is the coerced coverage of contraception, abortifacients, sterilization, and related services, not—or perhaps more precisely, not only—in the later purchase or use of contraception or related services."
As a result, the judges ruled 2–1 that the construction company's Catholic owners had established "a reasonable likelihood of success on their claim that the contraception mandate imposes a substantial burden on their religious exercise," and noted "the burden will be on the government to demonstrate that the contraception mandate is the ...1