A Colorado judge is supporting freedom of religion over the government’s ability to implement the contraceptive mandate for health insurance plans.
District Judge John Kane has temporarily blocked the government from enforcing the contraceptive requirement in health insurance plans against Hercules Industries, a private manufacturer whose Catholic owners were refusing to offer coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion.
The ruling only affects this plaintiff but opens the door for any company to seek relief on religious grounds. Lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services argued that a temporary exemption for Hercules would interfere with the government’s ability to implement the law. But Kane was not persuaded.
“This harm pales in comparison to the possible infringement upon (the Newland family’s) constitutional and statutory rights,” the judge wrote. He noted that the government had already created numerous exceptions for religious employers, exempting over 190 million health plan participants.
The law posed an imminent harm to the company’s owners by forcing them to support contraception, sterilization and abortion in violation of their religious beliefs or face steep fines, Kane said.
Members of the Newland family, which owns Hercules, sued in April, challenging the provision that is part of the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act of 2010.
Roman Catholic bishops and many Republican lawmakers oppose the provision. The Catholic Church launched a campaign against it from Sunday Mass pulpits across the country. Catholic Church doctrine opposes artificial contraception but most American Catholics do not adhere to church policy.
Hercules provides a self-insured group plan for its 265 full-time employees that does not cover birth control, sterilization or abortion-inducing drugs. But the new regulation would require Hercules to provide such coverage by November 1, the ruling said.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius expressed disappointment with the decision in a statement.
“This lawsuit was not brought by a religious organization. Rather, it was brought by a for-profit commercial enterprise whose purpose is to sell HVAC equipment,” she said, adding that healthcare decisions should be between women and their doctors, not their employers.
“Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and do business according to their faith,” Matthew Bowman, a lawyer for Hercules with the Alliance Defense Fund, said in a statement.
Sebelius is wrong. The decision whether to use contraception, or get sterilzed, or take an abortion-inducing drug is still between women and their doctors. That won’t change whether the contraceptive coverage is there or not. It is now, was, and always will be a question of who pays for it. And regardless of whether it’s a church, a religious affiliated hospital, or a business being run by a devout believer, forcing an entity to pay for something that violates their religious tenets is a violation of freedom of religion.
Trying to turn this into a privacy argument is nonsense and Sebelius should realize that. Why not just come out and say the government doesn’t care what you believe, you have an obligation to your employees to carry this coverage. Make it a workplace rights issue if you wish. At least then the administration would be honest about its contempt for people of faith and their beliefs.
This stay is temporary and probably won’t last. A recent case in Nebraska was dismissed because the judge felt that the plaintiffs were in no immediate danger of being injured by the law. A higher court will probably agree and the stay will be lifted.
But the administration is on notice that they’ve got a big fight on their hands and will relearn the lesson that the Tea Party and others have bee trying to teach it: Americans will not give up their liberties easily.