Doe v. Burwell
Description: In January 2015, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration on behalf of an HIV-positive Rhode Island man after he lost his private health plan due to Obamacare and was forced on to the state exchange. Under Obamacare, every health insurance exchange plan in Rhode Island required individuals to directly pay a “separate payment” to cover elective abortions. The man was in critical need of health insurance coverage but did not want to compromise his pro-life beliefs. The lawsuit also challenged secrecy clauses within Obamacare which forbid Americans from being told prior to enrollment whether the plans they would purchase on an exchange will include abortion coverage and a hidden separate payment for abortions. The clauses also forbid Americans from being told how much of the premium is a federally mandated abortion surcharge that pays exclusively for other people’s elective abortions.
RI revises health care plan after pro-life HIV+ man sues
Under Obamacare, the government required every individual purchasing a health insurance exchange plan on the Rhode Island exchange to directly pay a surcharge to cover elective abortions. Now the exchange will offer plans that don’t pay for abortions and don’t require the surcharge.
“Americans should be free to obtain health care without having to pay for elective abortions,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “The Constitution and federal and state law protect individuals from this type of government coercion. We commend Rhode Island for revising its health insurance exchange so that the state’s citizens do not have to financially support abortion in order to obtain health care.”
The lawsuit also challenged secrecy clauses within Obamacare which prohibit Americans from being told prior to enrollment whether the plans offered on an exchange will include abortion coverage and a hidden separate payment for abortions. The clauses additionally prevent Americans from being told how much of the premium is a federally mandated abortion surcharge that pays exclusively for other people’s elective abortions.
In response to the lawsuit, Rhode Island created new rules that will require every insurer to offer a plan that does not include elective abortion. The filing instructions will clearly identify plans that do not include elective abortion or a separate abortion payment.
Rhode Island is also providing the plaintiff, who is remaining anonymous because he is HIV-positive, with all the benefits of state and federal programs for HIV-positive patients, including premium assistance and co-pays for his medications. The state has also ensured that he will not be subject to an individual mandate penalty for the months that he was unable to be enrolled in a plan because of the abortion payment requirement.
“The government cannot punish pro-life individuals and force them to violate their beliefs in order to obtain the health care they need,” added ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “We hope other states will follow Rhode Island’s example and respect the constitutionally protected freedom of all Americans.”
The case’s resolution leaves three states – Vermont, New Jersey, and Hawaii – with Obamacare exchanges that require every enrollee to pay a hidden surcharge for elective abortions. An ADF lawsuit against federal and state officials in Vermont remains pending. A separate ADF lawsuit in Connecticut last year resulted in the addition of plans that do not require the separate abortion payment in that state.
Joe Larisa, one of more than 2,500 private attorneys allied with ADF, served as local counsel in the case.
- Pronunciation guide: Theriot (TAIR-ee’-oh)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Kevin Theriot serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Life Team working to defend pro-life laws and speech and protect medical rights of conscience. He has litigated cases in the areas of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Theriot is admitted to the bar in eight states, the U.S. Supreme Court, and numerous other federal courts of appeal and district courts. Theriot received his law degree from Vanderbilt University and has been litigating First Amendment issues since 1993.