The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday sided with the Obama administration in the nationwide legal battle over the mandate to cover contraception services in the new health care law, marking the second time a federal appeals court rebuffed to a company who said the mandatory coverage of birth control violates its religious beliefs.
A third court, seated in Denver, took an opposing view in July when it granted the Hobby Lobby crafts franchise an injunction that shields the Oklahoma City company from the mandate tied to the Affordable Care Act until the merits of their case can be heard.
Taken together, the split rulings are an indication the matter is headed for the Supreme Court in Washington.
"This just sets it up for Supreme Court review," said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing some of the plaintiffs who object to the mandate.
Judges on the 6th Circuit, seated in Cincinnati, said Tuesday that a Michigan-based manufacturing company named Autocam must comply with the mandate even though it would violate the owners' Roman Catholic beliefs.
The Kennedy family, like other plaintiffs who sued for over the mandate, said the Obama administration's rule required them to choose among violating their beliefs, dropping Autocam employees' health coverage or facing massive fines for flouting the mandate.
Conservative lawmakers and religious groups have lobbied the Obama administration and Congress to provide a religious exemption from the mandate, citing particularly objections to morning-after pills they equate with abortion.
But supporters of the mandate say contraception use is widespread, but at times unaffordable, for many women. They argue that corporate owners are not entitled to impose their personal beliefs on the diverse array of people they employ at secular companies by stripping contraception coverage from their health plans.
"The Kennedys’ actions with respect to Autocam are not actions taken in an individual capacity, but as officers and directors of the corporation," the 6th Circuit panel wrote.
The judges said they agreed with government lawyers who said "that Autocam has not carried its burden of demonstrating a strong likelihood of success on the merits in this action."
In late July, about a week after Hobby Lobby's successful plea to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, judges on the 3rd Circuit provided no relief to Pennsylvania-based Conestoga Wood Specialties.
A decision tracker at the Becket Fund says 29 companies have secured an injunction against the mandate at either the district or circuit court level, while five firms, including Conestoga and Autocam, have been denied relief.
Mr. Duncan said the Obama administration has until Sept. 25 to decide whether it will ask the Supreme Court to take up the Hobby Lobby case that went against them.
"I can't imagine that the United States [government] will just acquiesce in that," Mr. Duncan said.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration outlined an accommodation for religious nonprofits such as hospitals and universities that object to the mandate. Under the compromise, employees of the nonprofits can still acquire contraception coverage through separate policies set up by their companies' insurers or third-party administrators.
This, the administration said, would allow the faith-based employers to divorce themselves from the coverage, although some objectors have said the accommodation does little to assuage their concerns.
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