This article originally appeared in First Things on 2/14/2013.
A federal appellate court in Chicago issued a temporary injunction two weeks ago barring the enforcement of ObamaCare’s contraception mandate against Grote Industries, a Catholic-owned company in Indiana that makes vehicle safety systems.
In its 2-1 ruling, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted the company’s case was especially compelling because Grote is self-insured and there is no third-party insurance company involved. Forcing the plaintiffs to provide contraceptives to their 1148 employees unduly compels them to directly violate their personal religious beliefs, the court said. “The legal duties imposed on them by the contraception mandate conflict with the religious duties required by their faith, and they cannot comply with both.”
The ruling is the latest in a series of challenges (of which there have been forty-eight, so far) to the mandate at district and appellate courts. In December, the same panel issued a similar order in Korte v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, barring the feds from enforcing the contraception mandate against the Korte family and its construction company, Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc. The Seventh Circuit said the two cases are “materially indistinguishable.”
They are also, one could argue, materially indistinguishable from all the other contraception lawsuits filed against the administration in recent months. The results have so far been mixed. A federal judge in December denied an injunction request from Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned chain of arts-and-crafts stores. The company claimed ObamaCare’s contraception rule, which went into effect on August 1, 2012, would force it to pay for health insurance that covers abortion-inducing drugs – a violation, the owners argued, of their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion. In November, an almost identical case went in favor of a Christian publishing company, and on February 1, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis issued an injunction on behalf of Annex, a Minnesota-based manufacturer of medical devices.
Coincidentally, the ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court came on the same day the Department of Health and Human Services announced it will not allow employers to opt out of the contraceptive mandate, regardless of their religious beliefs, but would allow a partial exemption for non-profit religious organizations. These groups, HHS said, may inform their insurer they will not pay for contraceptive services, and the insurer will then pay for the coverage. Self-insured employers can alert their third-party administrator, who will then be responsible for providing contraceptive coverage through an insurer.
This, the Obama administration said, was its “accommodation” to those with moral objections to the contraception mandate.
One might argue that shifting the cost to the insurance company isn’t much of an accommodation, but the more egregious problem with the administration’s rule is that it ignores employers who object to furnishing contraceptives and abortifacients to their employees on religious grounds.
As others have noted, it’s not necessary to agree on the issues of abortion and contraception in order to oppose the administration’s policy on the matter. It is enough to recognize that the contraception mandate is an attempt to narrow the definition of religious liberty, and if successful would further confine dissent over these kinds of issues to houses of worship, effectively banning it from the public square.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recognizes this, and in a statement criticized the rule not only for forcing religious ministries to facilitate services that violate Catholic teaching, but also for disregarding the consciences of business owners. Myriad employers across the country agree, and consider the issue important enough to file nearly identical federal lawsuits, many of which are now coming down in their favor. Still, the administration did not think such objections credible enough even to bother addressing in its “accommodation” rule.
If it isn’t obvious by now, it should be: The federal government’s desire to micromanage health care and impose uniform coverage on all Americans is at least equal to their conceit that eventually those with religious and moral objections must set them aside. Based on how the courts are responding, and how many companies are willing to challenge the mandate, it’s a conceit that Washington might soon regret.