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6th Circuit won't exempt Catholic groups from Affordable Care Act contraception requirements

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee — A federal appeals court on Friday reaffirmed its prior judgment that the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The opinion by a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals primarily concerns six Catholic groups in Tennessee and Michigan that claim the mandate violates their religious beliefs.

As religiously affiliated nonprofits, they don't have to pay directly for their workers' birth control. Instead, they can seek an accommodation that requires their insurance providers to pay for it. But the groups still say the scheme makes them complicit in the provision of contraception.

This is the second time the 6th Circuit has considered the Catholic groups' request to temporarily exempt them from the requirement while their case makes its way through the courts.

The 6th Circuit denied the request in June 2014, but the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that opinion and asked the lower court to take up the case again. This time, the judges were to take into account the high court's Hobby Lobby opinion, also issued June 2014. That opinion found that closely held for-profit companies such as Hobby Lobby could seek an accommodation so that they do not directly pay for their workers' birth control, just as nonprofits are allowed to do.

On Friday, the 6th Circuit reaffirmed its earlier ruling denying the temporary exemption to the Catholic plaintiffs. In its opinion, the court noted the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling discussed the religious accommodation favorably.

"The Court did not suggest that the accommodation violated RFRA," or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The 6th Circuit also noted that its decision to deny the temporary exemption was in keeping with similar rulings in other circuits.

Three additional plaintiffs in the case are considered religious employers and are completely exempt from the contraceptive requirement.

"There is no need for them to object to the contraceptive mandate because, for these entities, nothing has changed," the court wrote.

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