Thursday, June 27, 2013

In Broad Win, Small Business Gets Preliminary Injunction Against Required ACA Emergency Contraception Coverage

In Beckwith Electric Company, Inc. v. Sebelius, (MD FL, June 25, 2013), a Florida federal district court granted a for-profit small business and its owner a preliminary injunction barring the government from enforcing the contraceptive coverage mandate to require plaintiffs to cover emergency contraceptives for the company's 168 employees. Plaintiffs claim these operate as abortifacients. Siding with plaintiffs on virtually all issues, the court held both  that corporations have the right to exercise religion under the free exercise clause and RFRA, and that closely held corporations can also assert the free exercise rights of their owners. The court held broadly:
When an individual is acting through an incorporeal form, whether secular or religious, nonprofit or for-profit, incorporated or a partnership, the individual does not shed his right to exercise religion merely because of the "corporate identity" he assumed.
The court also concluded that plaintiffs' religious beliefs are substantially burdened by the mandate:
It is not within the province of the Court to question the soundness or validity of a religious belief; it is enough that plaintiffs say they have the belief.... Plaintiffs are not objecting to the use of emergency contraceptives by Beckwith Electric's employees. Rather, the particular burden to which plaintiffs object is the provision of group insurance premiums that covers emergency contraception.
Finally the court held that the government has not shown it has a compelling interest in enforcing the mandate, both because of the large number of individuals that are exempt from the mandate and because:
there is no empirical data or other evidence... that would support the conclusion that the provision of the FDA-approved emergency contraceptives (in addition to the contraceptives to which plaintiffs do not object) would result in fewer unintended pregnancies, an increased propensity to seek prenatal care, or a lower frequency of risky behavior endangering unborn babies.
The Tampa Tribune reports on the decision. [Thanks to Hillary Byrnes for the lead.]