August 9, 2013 — Some business owners who have filed lawsuits against the federal contraceptive coverage rules are providing the coverage as their cases proceed in court, while others have decided not to comply and risk fines, the Washington Times reports (Howell, Washington Times, 8/8).
The contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most employers to offer the coverage to their workers. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, and religiously affiliated not-for-profits are eligible for an accommodation that ensures they do not have to pay for or directly provide the coverage to their employees. For-profit, private businesses must offer the coverage or face fines (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/8).
The requirement has prompted lawsuits from business owners claiming the rules violate their right to religious freedom. Federal courts have varied in their rulings on the suits, suggesting the issue might ultimately reach the Supreme Court.
Although some companies have received court orders allowing them to ignore the requirement while their cases proceed, about seven businesses did not, leaving them with the decision to comply with the rules or ignore them and risk substantial fines. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, 24 of the for-profit companies challenging the rules have received temporary orders in their favor, and five others are awaiting action in their suits.
Conestoga Wood Specialties in Pennsylvania and MK Chambers in Michigan are among the companies that have decided to provide contraceptive coverage while their cases are considered.
Mersino Management, a Michigan-based company also fighting the rules, has decided not to comply with the requirement. Erin Mersino, trial counsel at the Thomas More Law Center, said the plaintiffs "can't violate their conscience, so they're not" going to comply.
According to Mersino, Eden Foods -- another Michigan-based company -- declined to sign an insurance agreement that would have provided contraceptive coverage, but the insurer included the coverage without the company's consent, putting Eden in compliance with the requirement against its will.
It is unclear how or when businesses that refuse to comply with the requirement will be penalized. According to the Times, HHS referred questions about enforcement to the Department of Labor, saying it was that department's job to regulate employers. A Labor Department spokesperson said that it did not have a statement on the issue (Washington Times, 8/8).