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Appeals court rules against abortion mandate

CHICAGO (BP) — A federal appeals court has once again ruled against the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate in a case that has strong implications for religious liberty.

A panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday (Jan. 30) granted a preliminary injunction preventing the mandate from applying to Grote Industries, a for-profit company based in Madison, Ind., and owned by Catholics. The same panel in December issued an injunction preventing the mandate from applying to an Illinois-based business, Korte & Luitjohan Contractor, also owned by Catholics. Both rulings were 2-1.

The issue likely will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition to the Seventh Circuit, the Eighth Circuit and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals have issued either rulings or orders against the mandate, which requires businesses and many religious organizations to purchase insurance plans covering contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and ella that can kill an embryo after fertilization and even after implantation. Pro-lifers consider that action a chemical abortion.

The Seventh Circuit panel noted that the Grote family claims the mandate “compels them to materially cooperate in a grave moral wrong contrary to the teachings of their church.” Not following the mandate would result in “several financial penalties.”

“We conclude that the Grote Family and Grote Industries have established a reasonable likelihood of success” based on Grote’s claim that the mandate violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the panel ruled. “We also conclude that they will suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction pending appeal.”

Grote Industries is self-insured and its insurance plans did not cover contraceptives or abortion-causing drugs of any kind prior to the mandate, according to the ruling.

The judges consolidated the Grote and Korte cases.

Although the latest ruling involved a Catholic-owned business, evangelical-owned businesses and evangelical colleges also have won in federal court. There are 44 lawsuits involving non-profits and for-profits against the mandate, according to a tally by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Of the 14 rulings thus far involving for-profits, 10 have gone against the mandate.

Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Grote.

“Americans have the God-given freedom to live and do business according to their faith,” ADF attorney Matt Bowman said in a statement. “Forcing employers to surrender their faith in order to earn a living is unprecedented, unnecessary, and unconstitutional. Honoring God is important every day, in all areas of life, including in our work. Freedom is not the government’s to give and take away when it pleases.”

Voting in the majority were Reagan nominee Joel M. Flaum and George W. Bush nominee Diane S. Sykes. George H.W. Bush nominee Ilana Rovner dissented.

The mandate was announced by the Department of Health and Human Services in August 2011 as part of the health care law championed by President Obama. Although the Supreme Court upheld the health care law last June, the justices’ ruling did not deal with the religious liberty issues surrounding the abortion/contraceptive mandate. That means the nation’s highest court could yet strike down what has been for religious groups and some business owners the most controversial part of the law.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Michael Foust