In the face of mounting court losses, the Obama administration Wednesday abandoned its appeals in several abortion-pill mandate lawsuits. The surrender means that existing court orders which protect family businesses in those cases from violating their religious beliefs will stand while the lawsuits proceed.
The Obama administration is attempting to make Hobby Lobby and thousands of pro-life businesses and organizations comply with the HHS mandate that compels religious companies to pay for birth control and abortion-causing drugs for their employees.
As Alliance Defense Fund informed LifeNews today, administration’s defeat this summer at the U.S. Supreme Court in two cases — including the Hobby Lobby decision — appears to have prompted the Department of Justice to drop the appeals in The Seneca Hardwood Lumber Company v. Burwell, Armstrong v. Burwell, Briscoe v. Burwell, and the Hobby Lobby case itself.
The U.S. Courts of Appeal for the 3rd and 10th Circuits granted the administration’s requests Thursday.
“All Americans should oppose unjust laws that force people – under threat of punishment by the IRS – to give up their freedom to live and work according to their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “The administration was right to abandon its fight against the family businesses involved in these particular cases in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in June. In a free and diverse society, we respect the freedom to live out our convictions. For these families, that means not being forced to participate in distributing abortion drugs and devices.”
The Department of Health and Human Services mandate forces employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception under threat of heavy financial penalties through the IRS. The preliminary injunctions that the federal district courts issued in all of the cases where the administration is dropping its appeals will remain in effect until the cases are litigated to conclusion.
On Tuesday, ADF attorneys representing the non-profit March for Life filed a motion for a permanent injunction in that organization’s lawsuit against the abortion-pill mandate. The motion argues that the administration’s recent rule changes concerning the mandate offer no relief for pro-life organizations that are not religious. If granted, the injunction would suspend enforcement of the mandate against the well-known pro-life organization, which has held an annual march in Washington, D.C., against abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
“Clearly, pro-life organizations should be free to operate according to the foundational beliefs for which they exist,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “Abortion is the very tragedy March for Life and other pro-life groups oppose. We are asking the court to stop the government from forcing March for Life to act contrary to its core convictions while its lawsuit moves forward. If the government can continue to do that, there’s no limit to what other freedoms it can take away from anyone.”
Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Samuel Alito handed down the decision for the high court, saying, “The Supreme Court holds government can’t require closely held corporations with religious owners to provide contraception coverage.”
The court ruled that the contraception mandate violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, a 1993 law and it held that the mandate “substantially burdens the exercise of religion” and that HHS didn’t use the “least restrictive means” to promote this government interest, tests required by RFRA.
“HHS’s contraception mandate substantially burdens the exercise of religion,” the decision reads, adding that the “decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to mean that all insurance mandates.” The opinion said the “plain terms of Religious Freedom Restoration Act” are “perfectly clear.”
Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy joined in the majority decision. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
The Hobby Lobby decision only applies to companies, including Conestoga Wood Specialties, which had a companion case pending before the Supreme Court. Non-profit groups like Priests for Life and Little Sisters are still waiting for a ruling about their right to opt out of the mandate.
A December 2013 Rasmussen Reports poll shows Americans disagree with forcing companies like Hobby Lobby to obey the mandate.
“Half of voters now oppose a government requirement that employers provide health insurance with free contraceptives for their female employees,” Rasmussen reports.
The poll found: “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 38% of Likely U.S. Voters still believe businesses should be required by law to provide health insurance that covers all government-approved contraceptives for women without co-payments or other charges to the patient.
Fifty-one percent (51%) disagree and say employers should not be required to provide health insurance with this type of coverage. Eleven percent (11%) are not sure.”
Another recent poll found 59 percent of Americans disagree with the mandate.