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An appeals court has ruled that the birth control coverage required by federal health care reforms does not violate the rights of several religious groups because they can seek reasonable accommodations.
 
Two western Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses and a private Christian college had challenged the birth control coverage mandates and won lower-court decisions. However, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court ruling Wednesday said the reforms place "no substantial burden" on the religious groups and therefore don't violate their First Amendment rights.

All three groups — the college and the Pittsburgh and Erie dioceses — are mulling whether to appeal to the entire 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Such a ruling should cause deep concern for anyone who cares about any First Amendment rights, especially the right to teach and practice a religious faith," Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said in a statement. "This decision says that the church is no longer free to practice what we preach."

At issue is an "accommodation" written into the Affordable Care Act that says religious organizations can opt out of directly providing and paying to cover medical services such groups would consider morally objectionable. In this case, that refers to all contraceptive and abortion services for the Catholic plaintiffs, and contraceptive services like the "week-after" pill and other medical coverage that Geneva College contends violate its anti-abortion teachings. The school in Beaver Falls is affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Justice Department lawyers have argued the accommodation solves the problem because it allows religious groups to opt out of directly providing such coverage. But the plaintiffs contend that merely filing the one-page form, which puts a religious group's objections on record with the government, violates their rights because it still "facilitates" or "triggers" a process that then enables third-party insurers to provide the kind of coverage to which they object.


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