April 25, 2013 — A federal judge on Friday granted a preliminary injunction allowing a Pennsylvania lumber company to avoid complying with the federal contraceptive coverage rules, which the company's Catholic owners oppose, the Courthouse News Service reports (Bouboushian, Courthouse News Service, 4/22). The judge said the owners have a chance of winning their suit at trial (Mathis, "The Scoop," Philadelphia Post, 4/23).
The contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require that most health plans cover contraceptive services. Religious entities such as churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirements.
In February, the Obama administration proposed an accommodation for other religiously affiliated employers that would ensure that their health plans do not have to pay for contraceptive coverage. However, the accommodation was not extended to for-profit businesses (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/10).
In June 2012, the owners of Seneca Hardwood Lumber Company -- Wayne Hepler and Carrier Kolesar -- joined a lawsuit originally filed by Geneva College, a Christian college. The owners cited their Catholic beliefs as a reason for opposing the requirement that they offer contraceptive coverage to the business's 22 full-time employees. Hepler also sued on behalf of WLH Enterprises, a sawmill with six full-time employees, five of whom are covered by Seneca's health plan, which renews on July 1.
Details of Ruling
U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti dismissed Geneva's claims in March. In regards to the companies' claims, she reasoned that if the request for "relief is granted, nothing will change" because their health plan "already does not cover the objected to services." Additionally, "[t]he government already provides the objected to services for free or at a reduced cost to many individuals -- and may continue to do so," which "weighs in favor of granting preliminary injunctive relief," she wrote.
"Plaintiffs are faced with having to choose between violating their deeply held religious beliefs and being forced to ... terminate their health insurance coverage, which also burdens their religious exercise," the judge added (Courthouse News Service, 4/22).