Appeals court sides with administration over Obamacare contraception mandate


COLUMBUS — A Cincinnati-based federal appeals court today sided with the Obama administration in dismissing a Michigan lawsuit by a for-profit corporation challenging a health-care law mandate that employers’ insurance coverage must include contraception for workers.

Autocam Corp. and Autocam Medical, for-profit companies that manufacture goods for the auto and medical industries, challenged the constitutionality of the mandate under the Affordable Care Act. A Roman Catholic family by the name of Kennedy, which holds a controlling interest in the companies, argued unsuccessfully that the requirement that such coverage be provided to female employees will force them to choose between violating the teachings of their church and suffering significant financial harm.

Failure to comply under the law could carry heavy tax penalties for the corporations, which have 661 employees in the United States. The company is self-insured and contends it could face a tax penalty of as much as $19 million a year for non-compliance.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision from U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Mich. rejecting Autocam’s motion for a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of that provision of the health-care law. It sent the case back to the lower court with orders to dismiss the challenges by both the family and the corporations.

Other courts have decided differently in other challenges so the issue may eventually work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The suit had been filed against several members of the Obama administration playing roles in implementing the health care law.

The court ruled that the Kennedy family cannot use a private, for-profit, secular corporation to assert their own religious views. To rule differently, the court said, would “abandon corporate law doctrine at the point it matters most.”

“The decision to comply with the mandate falls on Autocam, not the Kennedys,” wrote Judge Julia Smith Gibbons.

The court, however, then went on to find that the corporations, Autocam, are not persons who can engage in “religious exercise.”

The court stressed that this decision does not affect separate challenges that have been made by non-profit religious organizations to the contraception coverage mandate under what is commonly called “Obamacare.” But such arguments cannot apply to a for-profit, secular corporation, it said.

Judge Gibbons was appointed to the bench in 2002 by then Republican President George W. Bush. Also sitting on the panel were Circuit Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, a 2010 Democratic appointee by President Obama, and U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood, of Michigan, appointed in 1994 by then Democratic President Bill Clinton.