WASHINGTON — A divided appeals court panel sided Friday with Ohio business owners who challenged the birth control mandate under the new federal health care law.
The business owners are two brothers, Francis and Philip M. Gilardi, who own Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics of Sidney, Ohio, and challenged the mandate on religious grounds. They say the mandate to provide contraceptive coverage would force them to violate their Roman Catholic beliefs and moral values by providing contraceptives such as the morning-after pill for their employees. The law already exempts houses of worship from the requirement.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is one of several on the birth control issue, which likely will be resolved by the Supreme Court. There are at least three other rulings by federal appeals courts on the mandate: One sided with Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby Stores; and two sided with the Obama administration in challenges brought by Pennsylvania and Michigan companies.
In the Hobby Lobby case, both sides have asked the Supreme Court to take up the case to decide whether corporations can claim a religious exemption to this part of the health care law.
Dozens of employers across the country have sued to challenge the so-called “contraceptive mandate” in the new law. Large employers are required to provide health coverage, and the law says this insurance must pay for standard contraceptives, including the “morning after” pill. But some employers, including the Green family who own Hobby Lobby, object on religious grounds.
They went to court, arguing that they cannot be compelled by the government to subsidize birth control or abortions. Their legal claims rested both on the First Amendment's protection for the “free exercise of religion” and a federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a measure meant to strengthen religious liberty.