A lawsuit against the Obama administration’s “contraception mandate” in its health care law is heading to a federal appellate court this week, while a Mennonite-owned company filed the 41st lawsuit seeking relief from it.
At issue is the requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that employers with 50 or more full-time employees offer for free all approved forms of contraception and sterilization in their health care policies, or face sizable penalties.
Many religious employers object to such coverage as a violation of their religious freedom, and if it is forced on them, they will be forced to drop health care insurance and incur penalties, such as a $2,000-a-year fine per employee.
Forty-one lawsuits have been filed against the federal government, including one filed Dec. 4 by Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., in East Earl, Pa. That lawsuit, brought by three Mennonite men who founded and run the wood-cabinet and specialty-products manufacturer, said the ACA coerces them to “engage in acts they consider sinful and immoral, in violation of their most deeply held religious beliefs.”
“The Mennonite Church teaches that taking of life, which includes anything that terminates a fertilized embryo, is intrinsic evil, and a sin against God to which they are held accountable,” said the lawsuit brought by Norman Hahn, Norman Lemar Hahn and Anthony H. Hahn. Both abortion and any abortifacient contraception that may cause an abortion are “equally objectionable,” they said.
The Department of Justice, which represents the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury in these lawsuits, does not comment on pending litigation.
However, the DOJ filed papers Monday in a separate but similar case before U.S. District Court Judge William S. Duffey Jr., in Atlanta, which was filed in October by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta and other Catholic institutions.
The Atlanta lawsuit should be dismissed because the Catholic plaintiffs haven’t shown any actual or imminent harm, the DOJ lawyers argued. No enforcement actions will be taken against religious institutions through at least Jan. 1, 2014, the lawyers said.
Also, the Obama administration is going to propose and finalize amendments to the law to accommodate religious objections to covering contraceptive services, the Justice Department filing said.
Some federal judges who have heard cases on the ACA contraception mandate have dismissed the religious plaintiffs’ lawsuits, saying they lacked standing or the issues were not ripe.
Both Belmont Abbey College and Wheaton College received such rulings over the summer. On Dec. 14, the two colleges will appeal the lower court rulings to three judges at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The colleges are heartened by a Dec. 5 ruling by a New York federal judge, who said he was not impressed by the government’s arguments that they will eventually address the religious-liberties complaints.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has “an actual and well-founded fear” that the ACA will be enforced against them, and “There is no, ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Brian M. Cogan in New York.
The N.Y. ruling “is fantastic” because Belmont Abbey College and Wheaton College are essentially making the same arguments about suffering harm now, said Emily Hardman, director of communications for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is defending the colleges.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.
• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at email@example.com.
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