Appeals Court Rules Against Catholic Business Owners in Favor of HHS Birth-Control Mandate

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a Michigan-based family owned business must comply with an Obamacare mandate that requires companies to pay directly for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

In the case, Autocam Corporation v. Kathleen Sebelius, John Kennedy, the CEO of Autocam and Autocam Medical in Grand Rapids, Mich., whose family owns the two businesses that employ 661 people in the U.S., claims the mandate forces them to violate their pro-life Catholic beliefs.

Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, who wrote the opinion of the court, argued that the Obamacare contraception mandate does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Kennedy family's religious convictions.

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"We dismiss the claims of the individual plaintiffs on standing grounds," wrote Gibbons, adding that the decision to comply with the mandate will be up to Autocam, and not the Kennedys, who own the business.

According to the Kennedys, forcing their business to comply with the mandate would require them to do one of three things: violate their convictions and comply with the mandate; drop health care coverage for their employees; or continue providing health care under their current plan and incur fines of up-to $19 million a year, because they don't directly pay for birth control, sterilization or abortion-inducing drugs, which would put Autocam out of business, and force them to layoff their employees.

In a statement to The Christian Post, Kennedy said, "the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision essentially split the human person in two – one who prays in their church, synagogue or mosque and keeps their faith within the walls of their religious institution and the other who goes to work, checking their faith at the door. I have a right to try to live my faith and practice my beliefs freely, and being a good Christian to me means living my faith in all areas of my life, not just at a church."

He continued, "because of my faith, I believe that it is just to pay my employees a good wage and give them exceptional healthcare benefits. But because of the HHS mandate, I have been forced to choose between violating my deeply held beliefs and pay for abortion-inducing drugs, no longer provide health insurance or close my entire business down by paying millions in fines. I will not give up my fight and I hope to be able to continue to fight for my religious freedom, including my ability to offer exceptional healthcare coverage for my employees."

Gibbons noted in the three-judge panel's opinion – which sent the case back to the district court with orders to dismiss the Kennedys' challenge – that in two similar challenges, the 10th Circuit ruled in favor of Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby, and the Third Circuit ruled against Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation in Pennsylvania, in favor of the HHS.

The Pennsylvania corporation claimed that the Obamacare contraception mandate violated the employer's right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. However, the Third Circuit ruled that a private employer cannot challenge the mandate, even if they believe it violates their religious conscience.

Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Autocam Corporation v. Kathleen Sebelius case, stated that "companies cannot break the law by withholding coverage for health services just because they have a religious objection. … This law ensures that employers do not discriminate against their workers by making it difficult for them to obtain the care they need."

In his interview with the National Review, Kennedy stated that Autocam employees can purchase "anything that the IRS defines as a 'medical expense' - including a surgical abortion - with pre-tax dollars through their HSAs (health savings accounts). I'm simply trying to ensure that my family does not spend our money in a way that directly supports conduct that violates our deeply held beliefs."

"I don't understand why the Obama administration is attacking two manufacturing companies that provide 680 jobs with an average hourly W-2 of $53,000, and are hiring – especially when most of those jobs are in a state like Michigan, where the economy is still recovering from the upheavals in the auto industry," Kennedy told the National Review last year.

Deborah Dewart of the Liberty, Life and Law Foundation, who wrote a friend of the court brief in support of the religious liberty rights of Autocam and its owners, told The Christian Post on Wednesday that her brief was to rebut the arguments presented by the ACLU.

"My brief is specifically intended to rebut arguments of the ACLU that a private employer 'discriminates' against women by refusing to finance free access to contraception and abortifacent drugs. There are currently 67 similar cases that have been filed around the country," she said, adding that The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty maintains current information about the lawsuits.

According to Dewart, Christians who live in the U.S. are increasingly faced with legal mandates that violate their conscience and religious faith in order to remain in business.

"Believers are called to honor God at all times – not just in the pew on Sunday – but the Obamacare contraception mandate compels Christians to choose between faithfulness to God (sanctity of life) and compliance with the civil law," she asserted. "These 'HHS mandate cases' thus have staggering implications for believers because the mandate could potentially force Christian-owned companies (and even some ministries) to shut down altogether in order to remain faithful to God and His Word. The financial penalties would be devastating even to the most profitable, well-established business."

The Obamacare mandate requires most private employers that have 50 or more employees to provide health insurance coverage for birth control, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. If they fail to provide for such coverage, they face penalties of up-to $100 a day per employee.

Autocam, manufactures high-precision components for the automotive and medical device industries, has 661 full-time employees in the U.S.

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