Religious business owners and corporations have filed half the lawsuits over health reform mandate to cover contraception

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

Some religious business owners are filing suit against the government, saying the health-reform law violates the constitutional freedom of religion by mandating employee contraceptive and abortion-inducing drug coverage; the lawsuits are expected to land in the U.S. Supreme Court, and a case filed by Hobby Lobby is the first of this kind to be heard by a federal appeals court.

Challenges to the mandate that will require businesses with more than 50 employees to provide no-cost
coverage of all contraceptives, sterilization procedures, plus education and counseling, are not just coming from Catholic entities with a religious, moral objection to contraception. About half of the cases have been filed by corporations, reports Robert Barnes of The Washington Post.

There are now 60 cases involving 190 individuals representing hospitals, universities, businesses, schools and people opposed to the mandate, says the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Becket Fund maps the cases, as shown below; for the interactive version, click here.

Since the law mandates contraceptive coverage, groups such as Catholic bishops have accused the Obama administration of waging war on religious liberty, reports Barnes. In February, the administration announced an exemption for faith-based organizations from covering employees’ contraception costs because the conceptions would be covered by a third party. Self-insured organizations like Catholic schools sued, arguing that the accommodation would not apply to them because there is no third-party insurer to cover contraception. But those cases have been dismissed in court because such organizations are given a one-year grace period to comply with the mandate, reports Laura Bassett of the Huffington Post.

Businesses don’t qualify for faith-based exemption from mandates

Hobby Lobby’s David and Barbara Green

Business do not meet the new exemption either, because they are not religious organizations. However, some businesses like Hobby Lobby, which was founded and is still owned by an evangelical Christian family that believes life begins at conception and already covers contraceptives through existing employee health coverage, are fighting the law’s mandate to cover abortion-inducing drugs or devices, like morning-after and week-after pills.

“They ought to be able — just like a church, just like a charity — to have the right to opt out of a provision that infringes on their religious beliefs,” said Kyle Duncan, who argued the case Thursday before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Green family, and a sister company, Christian booksellers Mardel Inc, reports The Associated Press.

Other suits have been filed by religious business owners of diverse enterprises, from a company that makes wooden cabinets to owners of Panera Bread restaurants, reports Barnes, but all the cases base their arguments on the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion and on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The Hobby Lobby case also specifies that the mandate violates freedom of speech and the Administrative Procedure Act because it was imposed without prior notice or sufficient time for public comment.

In the early stages of litigation, lower courts have split on the issue. Some have rejected Hobby Lobby’s request for an exemption to the mandate, and requests by other businesses for a temporary injunction, saying for-profit businesses aren’t covered by the faith-based exemption. However, courts in St. Louis and the Seventh Circuit have granted temporary injunctions. (Read more)

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