In a case advanced by the owners of two secular, Michigan-based companies whose owners are strict adherents to the Catholic faith and who have refused to provide health insurance coverage for medical contraception care for women as called for under the Affordable Care Act, a unanimous decision by the U.S. Sixth Circuit dismissed the case.
In a 15-page ruling from Cincinnati, Sixth Circuit Court Judge Julia Smith Gibbons wrote that Autocam, a Michigan-based for-profit corporation whose secular companies are Autocam Corp. and Autocam Medicals, must offer its 1,500 employees a health care plan that covers, without cost-sharing, "[a]ll Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling" for female employees enrolled in its health plan. The companies are engaged in high-volume manufacturing for the automotive and medical industries.
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The companies are owned and controlled by members of the Kennedy family, all of whom are practicing Roman Catholics. The owners claimed that compliance with the ACA, and the controversial mandate in it that individuals purchase healthcare insurance which was upheld by the U.S Supreme Court last year, will force them to violate the teachings of the Kennedy’s’ church. However, failure to comply with it will result in significant fines against Autocam, their company.
The owners sued the Cabinet departments and secretaries responsible for implementing the ACA’s mandatory coverage requirements on a variety of constitutional, statutory, and procedural grounds, and moved for a preliminary injunction that would relieve Autocam of its duty to provide the disputed coverage to its employees.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a staunch Catholic, and his Michigan counterpart, Attorney General Bill Schuette, both Republicans, had sided with Autocam.
"While we are unhappy in today’s preference by a 6th Circuit, it is critical to note that other courts have concluded with a position that a protections of eremite autocracy should extend to family-owned businesses operated according to eremite principle," the Ohio AG said, as reported by Michigan News. "Ultimately, we design that this emanate will be motionless by a U.S. Supreme Court," DeWine said.
Even though Judge Gibbons recognized that sister circuits have split on the proper answer to whether for-profit corporations may be exempted from compliance with the mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA], the court dismissed the claims of the Kennedy owners on standing grounds and affirmed the judgment of the district court.
The two companies, collectively known as Autocam, employ 1,500 employees in fourteen facilities worldwide, including 661 employees in the United States. The Kennedy plaintiffs argued that they "believe that they are called to live out the teachings of Christ in their daily activity and witness to the truth of the Gospel by treating others in a manner that reflects their commitment to human dignity," which includes their business dealings.
Their form of business, they said, enables them to "live their vocation as Christians in the world."
In another high-profile case involving another company run according to religious beliefs, the national retail chain Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. was similar denied satisfaction earlier this year when a district court denied a preliminary injunction on both Free Exercise Clause and RFRA grounds.
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The heart of the Kennedy’s argument is that, as owners, they accept their church’s teaching that artificial contraception and sterilization are immoral. They also believe that they become morally responsible for the use of contraception by others when they "directly pay for the purchase of drugs and services . . . in violation of [their] beliefs."
Another concern by the owners is the cost they incur if they don't comply with the ACA. The ACA’s primary enforcement mechanism for bringing employers into compliance with the mandate is a "tax" on the employer when its health plan fails to meet the requirements of the ACA. The amount of additional "tax" is "$100 for each day in the noncompliance period with respect to each individual to whom such failure relates." Autocam estimated hat it will be assessed fines of $19 million per year.
"We agree with the government that Autocam has not carried its burden of demonstrating a strong likelihood of success on the merits in this action. Accordingly, we need not consider the remaining preliminary injunction factors in order to conclude that the district court’s decision to deny the relief sought by Autocam was proper," Judge Gibbons wrote.
Mike DeWine, elected in 2010, the year of the rise of the Tea Party in Ohio, wants Ohio voters to hire him for another four years next year. Ohio Democrats have a challenger to Dewine, former Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper.
In a statement Wednesday on the ruling, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party used the ruling to criticize DeWine.
"The Ohio Attorney General is supposed to stand up for the rights of working women, not oppose them," Deputy Communications Director Brian Hester said in an email to the media. "Mike DeWine continues to use his office to wage an outdated, ideological crusade, which has once again been rejected by the courts. It’s time for DeWine to join the 21st Century and realize that, yes, women really do have rights in the workplace."
Mike DeWine, whose biography says he attends St. Paul’s Catholic Church, was the top politico in Ohio last year to cheerlead for Rick Santorum, another Republican and strict follower of the Catholic faith.
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