Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Contraception mandate foes ask judge for injunction

September 28, 2012 at 3:07 pm
Detroit — An Ann Arbor employer and a Florida-based organization of Catholic business owners asked a federal judge Friday to block a federal rule requiring free contraception coverage in employee health care plans.
Weingartz Supply Company and Legatus, the Florida-based group, asked U.S. District Judge Robert H. Cleland for a preliminary injunction against the mandate, arguing it infringes on their religious freedom. Cleland is expected to rule within a couple of weeks.
The plaintiffs want the mandate blocked while they pursue a lawsuit, filed in May, to force the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to offer exemptions to employers who oppose birth control.
"They should not have to wait in limbo," said Erin Mersino of the Thomas More Law Center, which represents the plaintiffs.
The rule, announced earlier this year by the Obama administration, is part of the health care overhaul passed in 2010. The contraception mandate exempts churches; church-affiliated employers such as hospitals and schools won't fall under the mandate until next year.
Members of Legatus and officials for Weingartz contend the mandate violates their religious freedom by forcing them to provide benefits that go against their beliefs.
But Ethan Davis, an attorney with the U. S. Department of Justice, said Weingartz is a secular-owned company that "cannot choose to deny employees government (laws) aimed at protecting their well-being."
Cleland told attorneys on both sides that whatever ruling he grants will result in hearings that will most likely go on for few months.
The mandate has sparked protests from the Catholic Church and many Catholics nationwide. Rallies against the new health care law have been held in major cities across the country, including Detroit this past spring that included about 850 demonstrators.
Women's rights advocates have supported the mandate, saying that making birth control more affordable will make it more accessible.
The White House  has offered what it calls "an accommodation" to church critics of the new health care mandate by exempting church-associated employers from having to pay for contraceptives; instead, insurance companies offer women the birth control coverage directly.
A small audience that included nuns, a Catholic priest and parishioners watched the court proceedings Friday morning.
"I hope the judge and the government will protect religious liberty," said Monsignor Robert McClory, vicar general for the Archdiocese of Detroit and an attorney. "I hope they will grant the injunction to block the implementation (of the mandate)."

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