Tarrant residents sue U.S., claim free birth control is attack on religious freedom

Four Tarrant County residents and a Texas health center filed a lawsuit Saturday against the United States, claiming a portion of the Affordable Care Act that provides free birth control to women is an attack on their religious freedom.

The suit, filed in the District Court of North Texas, attacks federal regulations in the ACA that require all employers who offer insurance to provide plans with free coverage of birth control for women.

The suit names the United States of America as a defendant as well as Alex Azar II, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Steven Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Alexander Acosta, the Secretary of Labor.

The plaintiffs in the suit are four Tarrant County residents and the Hotze Health and Wellness Center, a medical center near Houston. Jonathan Mitchell, one of the legal representatives for the plaintiffs, said he cannot comment on the suit.

Hotze Health and Wellness Center is a Christian-owned business near Houston owned by Dr. Steven Hotze, according to the suit.

According to the center’s website, Hotze has “successfully treated over 30,000 patients” and treats underlying health issues naturally instead of prescribing prescription drugs.

Hotze’s business is required to provide his 75 employees with birth control under the Contraceptive Mandate.

The mandate, created as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2011, requires all health insurers or employers to provide their employees with health insurance that covers some contraceptive costs.

Hotze claims in the suit this law forces his for-profit company to become complicit in contraception, which he believes is “tantamount to abortion.”

Four Tarrant County residents, Richard DeOtte, Yvette Deotte, John Kelley and Alison Kelley, are also plaintiffs in the suit.

Per the suit, the Deottes and Kelleys are Christians who “believe that life begins at conception and that all human life is sacred from conception until natural death.”

They state in the suit they are suing the government as representatives of all religious believers who object to contraception and sex outside of marriage.

According to the suit, they believe requiring employers to provide contraception for employees “encourages illicit sexual activity outside of marriage and forces other insurance beneficiaries to subsidize it.”

Richard DeOtte and John Kelley say in the suit they are self-employed and purchase their own insurance for their families.

They claim the Contraceptive Mandate forces religious believers to choose between buying insurance that “makes them complicit” in contraception and sex outside of marriage or forgoing health insurance completely.

Kelley and DeOtte claim this is “a substantial burden on the exercise of their religion.”

Religious freedom and birth control debate

The Contraceptive Mandate was implemented into the Affordable Care Act in 2011 and requires all health insurers or employers to provide employees with health insurance that covers some contraceptive costs.

In 2013, church employers and religious non-profits who objected to covering contraception were made exempt from the regulation.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled the Contraceptive Mandate violated religious freedom in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The decision meant private, for-profit corporations could opt out of providing contraceptive coverage if they had religious or moral objections.

The ACA was amended to allow exemptions for these type of companies.

However, In December 2017, two federal district courts granted nationwide injunctions against the amended rules, blocking them from going into effect. In Pennsylvania v. Trump, a judge ruled “the rules would cause irreparable harm because tens of thousands of women would lose contraceptive coverage.”

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