On August 1st, 2012, the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring corporations to provide their employees with contraceptives took effect. Yet a recent ruling has provided a temporary halt to that mandate, and may provide the foundation for future opposition.
The Colorado based company, Hercules Industries, will not be required to provide contraceptives to its employees, on the grounds that the mandate violates the religious beliefs of its owner. The Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund) defended Hercules Industries and won a temporary injunction, providing an important precedent for future cases. US District Court Judge John Kane granted the injunction, saying “pales in comparison to the possible infringement upon Plaintiffs’ constitutional and statutory rights. [The Federal Government’s] interests are countered, and indeed, outweighed, by the public interest in the free exercise of religion.”
While it is not a permanently decisive ruling, it is worth noting that the judge’s reasons for opposing the HHS mandate will provide the foundation for future arguments.
The ruling is the first of a myriad of cases that will come to trial over the next few months as the HHS mandate goes into full effect. More than 50 plaintiffs have gone to court against the mandate, many of whom are neither religious organizations nor Catholic. Many authors speculate that these decisions will inevitably culminate in another Supreme Court case.
Every company throughout the country will be required to provide health insurance that includes contraceptives, or they will face a $100 per employee per day fine. Policy analysts Jennifer Marshall and Dominique Ludvigson at the Heritage Foundation offered the following breakdown: “With 265 employees, Hercules’ fine would have amounted to $800,000 per month—almost $10 million per year. If Hercules were to take the more likely action of dropping health care coverage to avoid facilitating the mandate, thereby forcing its employees into government-run exchanges, it would face a fine on faith of approximately $2,000 per employee per year, for a total of $530,000 per year.” Yet these monetary costs pale in comparison to the significant costs to personal liberty that this policy promotes.
To top it all off, a majority of Americans are opposed to the HHS mandate. In a recent study the Washington-based polling firm QEV Analytics found that a majority of voters were opposed to the idea that contraceptive coverage should be a national priority. Of women polled, 63% said that they thought contraceptives should be treated as any other drug, without mandatory coverage.
Yet in spite of majority opposition to the HHS mandate, Judge Kane’s ruling has been opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claims that the absence of fully funded contraceptive coverage is a case of discrimination, and that women need free contraceptives as a matter of fundamental rights. But is it really fair to say that a person’s rights are inhibited if someone else does not buy something for her? Isn’t it much more accurate to claim that a person’s rights are inhibited when she is threatened with fines and imprisonment if she does not take a certain action that she finds morally objectionable? Any organization that is genuinely committed to the principles of freedom found in America ought to recognize that true freedom cannot be found through compulsion and threats of force.
In response to the implementation of the HHS mandate, Cardinal DiNardo, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishop’s (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities has called the mandate an “unprecedented and misguided federal policy.” Noting the USCCB’s continued emphasis on the need for preferential care for the poor and vulnerable, the cardinal urged lawmakers in Congress to uphold religious liberty by promoting policies that align with Catholic teaching. The defense of true freedom and especially religious freedom should always be a national priority in America. For the time being, there is at least one judge who agrees. Let us pray that the courts will uphold our religious freedoms, despite the many forces which oppose it.