Employees at a western Michigan manufacturing company might not all agree with the Catholic owners’ religious stance on birth control, but that doesn’t mean any of them want their generous health benefits to change.
That’s how John Kennedy, who founded Autocam Corp. 25 years ago, outlined a practical slice of his argument against a new mandate that requires large employers to insure birth control as part of their company health plans.
Mr. Kennedy said his Catholic family accepts that life begins at conception, and thus the church’s teaching that interfering with that is an “intrinsic evil.”
They visited the nation’s capital last week to lay the groundwork for a legislative remedy if they do not get relief from the courts from the mandate, a rule the Obama administration imposed among the sweeping health care reforms in the Affordable Care Act.
Dozens of religiously devout business owners have sued over the mandate, and federal appeals courts have split on the issue, making it ripe for review by the Supreme Court this term. Opponents particularly object to insuring morning-after pills like Plan B and Ella, which they equate with abortion.
The Kennedys are complying with the mandate for now, but say they face an impossible set of choices if it is not rolled back. Without relief, they would have to either violate their conscience, drop their employees’ health coverage or flout the mandate and face millions of dollars in fines that would cripple the business.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Mr. Kennedy said. “There is no right answer.”
Feature of Obamacare
The contraception mandate has been a constant subplot to the Obamacare drama that has played out on Capitol Hill since 2010, when Democratic majorities muscled the overhaul through Congress.
Houses of worship are exempt from the mandate, while religious nonprofits have obtained an “accommodation” that divorces them from managing or paying for birth-control coverage — although many say that is a mere accounting trick. As it stands, for-profit entities must fully comply with the mandate, regardless of the religious views of their owners.
Conservative lawmakers and plaintiffs across the country say the rule is a blatant infringement on the First Amendment right of free exercise of religion and violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
But the Obama administration has said contraception use is widespread and often unaffordable for women. Supporters of the rule say business owners cannot impose their personal beliefs on a diverse array of employees at for-profit companies, and that health insurance is not much different than other forms of compensation that allow people to purchase whatever they want.
“We hope that the court will uphold the rule, and we will be weighing in with a brief as we have done in over 30 of these cases,” said Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Fast-track to the high court