Court Forces Mennonite Company to Comply With HHS Abortion Mandate

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 29, 2013   |   10:36AM   |   Washington, DC

A federal appeals court issued a ruling Friday forcing a Mennonite-owned company to comply with the HHS mandate, which compels companies to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions.

In a 2-1 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, owned by a Mennonite family, must adhere to the mandate. The company has 950 employees.

“Since Conestoga is distinct from the Hahns, the Mandate does not actually require the Hahns to do anything,” wrote Judge Robert Cowen. “All responsibility for complying with the Mandate falls on Conestoga … It is Conestoga that must provide the funds to comply with the Mandate—not the Hahns.”

“Our decision here is in no way intended to marginalize the Hahns’ commitment to the Mennonite faith,” Judge Cowen continued. “We accept that the Hahns sincerely believe that the termination of a fertilized embryo constitutes an intrinsic evil and a sin against God to which they are held accountable, and that it would be a sin to pay for or contribute to the use of contraceptives which may have such a result. We simply conclude that the law has long recognized the distinction between the owners of a corporation and the corporation itself.”

Judge Thomas Vanaskie, an Obama appointee, joined Cowen in the decision, according to a report on it.

Creating a direct split among federal appeals courts and thus enhancing chances that the Supreme Court will take on the issue, the Third Circuit Court ruled on Friday that a family-owned, profit-making business cannot challenge on religious grounds the new federal health care law’s mandate of birth control health insurance for its workers.   The two-to-one decision by the Philadelphia-based court conflicts with a recent ruling by the Denver-based Tenth Circuit Court.

Judge Jordan, in a dissenting opinion that ran to more than twice the length of the majority opinion (sixty-six pages, compared to thirty), said the majority’s conclusions rested on “a cramped and confused understanding of the religious rights preserved by congressional action and the Constitution.”

Jordan, whom President George W. Bush appointed to the bench, went after the Obama administration.

At oral argument, counsel for the government insisted that “abortifacient” is a “theological term,” and that, “for federal law purposes, a device that prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus,” like Plan B and Ella, “is not an abortifacient.” There was something telling in that lecture, and not what counsel intended. One might set aside the highly questionable assertion that “abortifacient” is a “theological” and not a scientific medical term, which must come as a surprise to the editors of dictionaries that include entries like the following: “abortifacient [MED] Any agent that induces abortion.” …

Whether a fertilized egg, being acted upon by a drug or device, is aborted after implantation or is never implanted at all is not pertinent to the Hahns’ belief that a human life comes into being at conception and therefore the destruction of that entity is the taking of a human life. That belief is the point of this case, and the government is in no position to say anything meaningful about the Hahns’ perspective on when life begins.

But counsel’s comment during argument does say something meaningful about the government’s desire to avoid anything that might smack of religion in this case involving questions of religious freedom.

The government evidently would like to drain the debate of language that might indicate the depth of feeling the Hahns have about what they are being coerced to do. “Keep the conversation as dry and colorless as possible,” is the message. Don’t let anything that sounds like “abortion” come up, lest the weight of that word disturb a happily bland consideration of corporate veils and insurance contracts. Like it or not, however, big issues – life and death, personal conscience, religious devotion, the role of government, and liberty – are in play here.