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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
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No Obamacare Injunction in Mennonite Carpentry

(CN) - A family of Mennonite cabinetmakers cannot block a provision of health care reform that forces them to cover the contraceptive needs of employees, a federal judge ruled.

Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. and five of its owners sued the Obama administration in 2012 and demanded an injunction to the Women's Preventive Healthcare regulations of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Norman Hahn runs Conestoga in East Earl, Pa., with his wife and five sons. As practicing Mennonite Christians, the Hahns said they would object to any mandate that would make them "pay for and otherwise facilitate the insurance coverage and use of contraception with an abortifacient effect and related education and counseling."

Conestoga's board of directors adopted "The Hahn Family Statement on the Sanctity of Human Life" in October 2012, stating that "human life begins at conception (at the point where an egg and sperm unite) and that it is a sacred gift from God and only God has the right to terminate human life."

Its health plan specifically excludes coverage for "contraceptive prescription drugs" and "any drugs used to abort a pregnancy."

U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg denied the sought-after injunction on Friday.

"It would be entirely inconsistent to allow the Hahns to enjoy the benefits of incorporation, while simultaneously piercing the corporate veil for the limited purpose of challenging these regulations," the 35-page opinion states.

The ruling cites a similar case from Oklahoma, captioned Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius, which found that for-profit, secular corporations do not have a "purely personal" right to free exercise of religion. The Supreme Court also refused to give Hobby Lobby an injunction before the new health care law took effect this month.

Goldberg brushed aside Conestoga's claim that the Women's Preventive Healthcare regulations are not neutral because they exclude some religious employers.

"The purpose of the Women's Preventive Healthcare regulations is not to target religion, but instead to promote public health and gender equality, and plaintiffs have not presented any evidence to the contrary," the judge wrote.

Conestoga also does not have a claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the court found.

"Whatever burden the Hahns may feel from being involved with a for-profit corporation that provides health insurance that could possibly be used to pay for contraceptives, that burden is simply too indirect to be considered substantial under the RFRA," Goldberg wrote.

Conestoga's First Amendment claim failed as well.

"While the regulations mandate that employers provide coverage for 'education and counseling' for women of reproductive capacity, which may include information about the contraceptives which plaintiffs believe to be immoral, the regulations are silent as to the content of the counseling given to a patient by her doctor," Goldberg wrote. "The script that conversation follows is instead determined by the particular doctor and patient. As such, it cannot be said that plaintiffs are being required to fund the advocacy of a viewpoint with which they disagree. Plaintiffs' concern that a doctor may, in some instances, provide advice to a patient that differs from the Hahns' religious beliefs is not one protected by the First Amendment."

Conestoga currently employs approximately 950 full-time employees, according to the complaint.

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