A federal judge Monday, in a court case brought by an anti-abortion group, allowed for exemptions to the Affordable Care Act based on an employer's moral objections.
The suit was brought against the Department of Health and Human Services by March for Life, a group that holds annual marches in Washington, D.C. opposing the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortions in the U.S. The group sued in July 2014 to be relieved from ACA requirements that allow for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, on grounds that the rules violate its Fifth Amendment right to equal protection.
The case is important for small business owners, because it appears to increase the scope of the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. That ruling says businesses may object on religious grounds to offering health services stipulated by the ACA, such as abortion services and fertility drugs. March for Life is not a religious group, but can similarly object on grounds of moral conscience, the federal ruling says.
"If the purpose of the religious employer exemption is, as HHS states, to respect the anti-abortifacient tenets of an employment relationship, then it makes no rational sense--indeed, no sense whatsoever--to deny March (for) Life that same respect." U.S. District Judge Richard Leon wrote in his opinion, according to the Associated Press.
In last June's 5-to-4 Hobby Lobby ruling, which was divided along ideological lines, the high court said closely held companies have a right to special religious exceptions when it comes to the benefits they're required to offer their employees under the ACA. More than 100 businesses and religious organizations have sued the federal government to be exempt from the ACA's contraceptive requirements since Obamacare became law in 2010.
Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby is a closely held chain of craft stores, owned by an evangelical Christian family.
The March for Life case may well wind up before the Supreme Court, as the federal government is expected to appeal the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Court, The New York Times reports.