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Lancaster County company plans to appeal loss over PPACA contraception requirement

By - Last modified: January 14, 2013 at 9:46 AM

A Lancaster County company that lost its civil case against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's contraception clause plans to appeal, its attorney said today.

"When you run a business, it isn't something disconnected from you as an individual, but an extension of your beliefs, your aspirations, your will," said Randall Wenger, chief counsel of the Harrisburg-based Independence Law Center, which is representing Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp.

"If the government can tell people to violate their conscience, the government can tell people to do almost anything. … For your readers who may not agree with what's on the abortion issue or the contraception issue, the deeper issue of liberty is something we should all agree about."

On Friday, Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg of the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District issued a ruling against Conestoga, finding that what the PPACA requires of the secular corporation does not constitute a substantial burden on the owners' religious freedom.

The Hahn family, which owns Conestoga, cited its Mennonite faith in opposing the requirement to provide contraceptives, which includes what they consider abortifacients. PPACA includes an exception for religious employers, which Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation does not qualify as.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief in the case arguing that the right to religious liberty is not absolute and "does not give businesses or individual's carte blanche to discriminate against others, deny others their rights, ignore important laws, or foist their religious beliefs on their employees."

"Congress required coverage of Women's Preventive Healthcare in order to address inequities in the current healthcare system, which leads 'women of childbearing age [to] spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men,'" the brief said.

"Whatever burden the Hahns may feel from being involved with a for-profit corporation that provides health insurance that could possibly be used to pay for contraceptives, that burden is simply too indirect to be considered substantial under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," Goldberg wrote.

Goldberg's 34-page opinion noted that rulings in similar cases across the country, including those filed by Hobby Lobby and Tyndale House Publishers, have been varied, and that neither the Supreme Court nor the Third Circuit has had occasion to decide whether for-profit, secular corporations possess the religious rights held by individuals.

The penalty for not complying with the requirement is $100 per employee per day, or approximately $95,000 per day for Conestoga. Goldberg had previously granted Conestoga a temporary reprieve from the fine, which would have begun on Jan. 14, pending his decision on the case.

Wenger noted that Hobby Lobby, which is appealing a similar and much-publicized case, has found a way to delay the start of its new insurance year and the official start of fines, but Conestoga has an insurance carrier and that option does not appear to be open. What will happen with the imposition of fines remains to be seen as Conestoga pursues the case, he said.

Click here to read the full ruling.

Heather Stauffer

Heather Stauffer

Heather Stauffer covers Lancaster County, nonprofits, education and health care. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at heathers@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @StaufferCPBJ.

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