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Conestoga Wood Specialties to continue appeal, possibly to U.S. Supreme Court

Challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate are making their way toward the U.S. Supreme Court, and a Lancaster County company could be the one to take it there.

On Friday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia issued a 2-1 ruling against Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. on the basis that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise.”
About 30 companies have challenged the law, which is also being protested by nonprofit groups, on the basis that they consider certain contraceptives such as the morning-after pill to be abortifacients and believe providing them to be wrong. Under the mandate, the companies must include the contraceptives in their health insurance plans or face a penalty of $100 per employee per day.
Randall Wenger of the Harrisburg-based Independence Law Center, which is representing Conestoga, said numerous companies have gotten injunctions on the issue, but the only two with Circuit Court of Appeals decisions on merits so far are Conestoga and crafting giant Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.
Hobby Lobby’s favorable ruling came from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc — that is, all judges on its bench, which is reserved for major cases. Conestoga’s unfavorable ruling was not from an en banc court, Wenger said, so the options now remaining are for Conestoga to seek en banc consideration in the 3rd Circuit or appeal to the Supreme Court.
That the two circuits on the same level handed down conflicting rulings makes the issue ripe for Supreme Court review, Wenger said.
“We’re exploring which is the best next step, but we certainly don’t plan to stop here, because the issues are too important,” Wenger said. “A corporation is a separate legal entity, yes. But I think business owners, particularly family business owners, understand that a family business is a reflection of the family; it’s the family that makes the choices about how the business is run. They’re the ones who are making a decision about facilitating something that they find immoral.
“The decision of the court abstractly recognizes that the corporation is a separate individual, but it doesn’t understand the reality that it’s real people who make the decisions, who then are accountable for their decisions before God.”
Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., located in East Earl Township, has about 1,000 employees and is owned by the Hahns, a Mennonite family.

Heather Stauffer

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