WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court waited until the very end of its term to deliver a 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, declaring privately held, for-profit companies should be allowed exemption from providing certain types of birth control for religious reasons.
But for some plastics companies, the fight had already been going on for years.
While the Hobby Lobby case was the one suit the high court chose to consider, it was only one of the nearly 80 pending cases from around the country challenging the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate, including several from plastics processors.
Companies including Sioux Chief Manufacturing Co. Inc., a plumbing OEM that works in both copper shaping and plastic injection molding based in Peculiar, Mo.; Sterling Heights, Mich.-based injection molder M&N Plastics Inc.; Minnetonka, Minn., medical device manufacturer Annex Medical Inc.; and automotive molder Grote Industries Inc. in Madison, Ind., have been waiting — some for years — with their own cases on hold while the court considered the Hobby Lobby case.
The common thread through all the cases is that the plaintiffs maintain the federal government, by requiring contraceptive coverage under ACA, is infringing on their religious views. Like Hobby Lobby, many of the companies already covered birth control under their insurance plans, but oppose the ACA requirement that health plans also cover the so-called morning-after pill, which they argue causes abortions.
The Department of Health and Human Services had amended the rule to exempt churches and houses of worship and to provide special concessions to some religiously affiliated entities such as Catholic hospitals and universities. However, the agency stopped short of allowing other types of employers to opt out of the mandate for personal religious reasons.
The mandate put family businesses “in a terrible position” having to choose between violating their faith or being punished by the government for following their faith, said Bryan Beauman a lawyer with Lexington, Ky., firm Sturgill, Turner, Barker and Moloney, PLLC who worked on the Grote case through the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group.
“Americans, we don't surrender our freedom when we open a family business,” Beauman said. “All of us must be free to live and work according to our beliefs without fear of government punishment.”
Grote, a family-owned company since its founding in 1901 by William D. Grote, estimated it would have faced approximately $928,000 in fines if the company had refused to cover certain types of contraception to which the devout Catholic owners object for religious reasons.
Grote originally filed suit in October 2012, but the U.S. District Court in New Albany, Ind., denied the Grotes relief from the federal mandate.
The family appealed to the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in January 2013, getting a temporary injunction pending the appeal a month later. The three-judge panel ruled in Grote's favor in November 2013 in a 154-page decision. Another injunction was issued after the government filed the last possible appeal, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the Grote case because it was already considering a similar case — Burwell v Hobby Lobby.
Now that the decision has been handed down, is the fight over for small business owners with strong religious convictions? Justice Samuel Alito writes in the majority opinion that the White House provided an out for nonprofit religious corporations, asking why the same standard cannot be applied to this apply to the for-profit employers as well.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Administration considering its options. “It is our view... that Congress needs to take action to solve this problem that's been created and the Administration stands ready to work with them to do so,” Earnest told reporters.
But those with pending cases expect to soon have a permanent injunction in place.
“I can't begin to predict what the Obama Administration is going to do next,” Beauman said, “But things look very, very strong for folks like the Grotes who want to run their companies according to their beliefs.”