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Appeals court rules against abortion mandate

ST. LOUIS (BP) — For the first time a federal appeals court has issued an order against the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate.

The one-page order Wednesday (Nov. 28) from a three-judge Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals panel prevents the government from forcing a Missouri business — O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC — to cover contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs in its employee health care plans as the appeals process is completed. The panel’s temporary injunction came two months after a lower court tossed out the lawsuit.

It marks the fourth time this year that a federal court has issued an order or ruling against the mandate, which applies to businesses and religious organizations. There are about 40 cases nationwide seeking to overturn the mandate, which was implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services after President Obama signed the landmark health care bill into law.

The lawsuit by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) says the mandate would force Frank O’Brien — the business owner — to violate his “religious beliefs and company policy.” The mandate violates two federal laws as well as the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom and free speech, the suit states. If the court does not intervene and O’Brien does not follow the mandate, he would face steep fines. O’Brien’s company and its subsidiaries employ about 85 people.

“O’Brien is a Catholic who has the religious duty to conduct himself and his business in a manner consistent with the Catholic faith,” ACLJ stated in an appeal to the Eighth Circuit. “Pursuant to these beliefs, O’Brien has ‘established as company policy that [it] cannot pay for and provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, abortion or related education and counseling.'”

O’Brien’s business operates a number of businesses that explore, mine and process refractory and ceramic raw materials, according to ACLJ.

“The order sends a message that the religious beliefs of employers must be respected by the government,” said ACLJ attorney Francis Manion. “We have argued from the beginning that employers like Frank O’Brien must be able to operate their business in a manner consistent with their moral values, not the values of the government. We look forward to this case moving forward and securing the constitutional rights of our client.”

The panel split 2-1 on the order, although all three judges were nominated by Republican presidents. The two justices in the majority were Raymond W. Gruender and Bobby E. Shepherd, each nominated by George W. Bush. Dissenting in the order was Morris Sheppard Arnold, who was nominated by George H.W. Bush.

The ACLJ suit involves a private business, but many of the 40 suits against the mandate involve religious organizations. Tyndale House Publishers, which publishes Bibles and Christian books, won in federal court in November when a judge issued a temporary injunction preventing it from being forced to follow the mandate.
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