January 15, 2013 — A federal judge in Pennsylvania on Friday denied a request from a Mennonite-owned secular business to avoid complying with the federal contraceptive coverage rules, CQ HealthBeat reports (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 1/11).
Conestoga Wood Specialties owner Norman Hahn and his family object to covering some forms of contraception, such as emergency contraception, that they believe cause abortions (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/7/12). The company sought a temporary injunction to avoid fines for not abiding by the federal rules, which took effect Jan. 1 for their health plan (CQ HealthBeat, 1/11).
Late last month, U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg granted the company a 14-day temporary restraining order and barred federal officials from imposing fines. According to the plaintiffs, the 950-employee company would incur fines of $95,000 per day for violating the rules. They also argued that the free-speech rights for corporations that were recognized in the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision should also encompass religious rights.
Goldberg said on Friday that expanding free-speech rights recognized in Citizens United to include religious rights is "a significant leap" that he is not prepared to make. Conestoga failed to prove that the contraceptive coverage rules amount to a "substantial burden" on freedom of religion or that the company should be considered a "religious employer" that qualifies for an exemption to the rules, he added (Martin, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/13).
"The Hahns certainly possess these [religious] rights," but "Conestoga, as a for-profit, secular corporation, does not," the judge said.
Goldberg noted that courts have issued conflicting decisions regarding similar requests for injunctions against the contraceptive coverage rules, which he said is unsurprising given the "complicated issues" involved (CQ HealthBeat, 1/11).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership