A federal appeals court has agreed with three U.S. district judges and blocked the enforcement of the Obamacare "mandate" that would have forced a Missouri company to pay for health insurance including abortifacients in violation of the religious beliefs of the owners.
The order from a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the first from the appellate level among the dozens of cases challenging the Obamacare mandate.
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According to officials with the American Center for Law and Justice, the order puts on hold the White House-promoted requirement in the case involving Frank R. O'Brien and O'Brien Industrial Holdings, a St. Louis, Mo., company that runs a number of businesses that explore, mine and process refractory and ceramic raw materials.
"By granting our motion, the appeals court blocks the implementation of the HHS mandate and clears the way for our lawsuit to continue – a significant victory for our client," said Francis Manion, senior counsel of the ACLJ. "The order sends a message that the religious beliefs of employers must be respected by the government. We have argued from the beginning that employers like Frank O'Brien must be able to operate their business in a manner consistent with their moral values, not the values of the government. We look forward to this case moving forward and securing the constitutional rights of our client."
In October, a federal district court judge granted Obama's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The ACLJ immediately filed an appeal, and the higher court today granted the motion for an injunction.
The lawsuit was launched in March 2012 and marked the first legal challenge to the HHS mandate from a private business owner and his company, the ACLJ said.
O'Brien, a Catholic, told the ACLJ his religious beliefs provide the framework for the operation of his businesses, which employ 87 people. The company website states the mission "is to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society."
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Meanwhile, district judges in Colorado, Michigan and Chicago have issued similar rulings to protect companies in those locations while they fight what they describe as a blatant violation of the owners' religious rights.
Meanwhile, an amicus brief that has been filed in the O'Brien case warns that the mandate is unconstitutional because it failed to abide by the Administrative Procedures Act.
That requires that, "An agency rule would be arbitrary and capricious if the agency has relied on factors which Congress has not intended it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency, or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise."
Critically, the brief filed on behalf of the Bioethics Defense Fund and Life Legal Defense Foundation said, is the section that the regulation fails if "an important aspect" has not been considered.
It explains that the government failed entirely to consider "that the mandated drugs increase risk of disease rather than preventing disease."
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Among the factors the brief cited are that oral contraceptive pills boost the risk of heart attack, stroke and complications, the risk of breast cancer increases, cervical cancer chances increase, uterine perforations from IUDs happen, and a surgical implant to reduce pregnancies can cause "serious thromboembolic events, including cases of pulmonary emboli (some fatal) and strokes."
In fact, the 8th Circuit already has affirmed a South Dakota law that requires abortionists to inform women seeking to terminate the lives of their unborn babies they also face an increased risk of suicide.
Officials noted that recent ruling was the fourth separate decision from that appeals court affirming the state of South Dakota''s attempts to crack down on unhealthy medical practices by abortionists.
"As a result of this case upholding all eight major provisions of South Dakota's Abortion Informed Consent Statute, pregnant mothers will now be informed: 1) that 'an abortion terminates the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being;' 2) that the mother's 'relationship with that second human being enjoys protection under the Constitution of the United States and the laws of South Dakota;' 3) 'that relationship and all rights attached to it will be terminated;' and 4) the abortion places the mother 'at increased risk for suicide ideation and suicide,'" he said.
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Earlier in the O'Brien case, the government determined that the mandate is a "burden" on religious rights.
"Indeed, defendant [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius herself has publicly acknowledged that the mandate raises religious concerns," said a court filing from the the American Center for Law and Justice.
"In a press release issued on Jan. 20, 2012, announcing the finalization of the mandate and the temporary safe harbor period for nonprofit entities that object to contraceptive services, defendant Sebelius opined that the temporary reprieve 'strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventative services.'
"Subsequently, in a press release issued on July 31, 2012, Sebelius stated that 'the Obama administration will continue to work with all employers to give them the flexibility and resources they need to implement the health care law in a way that protects women's health while making common-sense accommodations for values like religious liberty.'"
The legal brief, filed in U.S. district court for the Eastern District of Missouri, continued. "The defendants cannot make a straight-faced argument in this litigation that the mandate does not impose a substantial burden on the exercise of religious beliefs. Indeed, the defendants have postponed for a year the application of regulations that purportedly advance a compelling governmental interest solely because of the burden the defendants themselves recognize that these regulation impose on the exercise of religion.
"Clearly, nothing but a burden of a 'substantial' nature could justify such a postponement," the brief said.
Dozens of Christian organizations around the country, and a number of companies, have launched legal actions over the mandate, which also now may be heading back to the U.S. Supreme Court for review after those justices ordered an appellate court to consider religious rights claims by Liberty University.
And leaders of of a multitude of religious-advocacy groups are warning of the Obamacare contraception mandate consequences for business owners of faith:
- Larry Cirignano, president of Faithful Catholic Citizens: "Give up your religion or go bankrupt. This is not a mandate; it is an ultimatum. Buy insurance and kill babies or go bankrupt fighting us. Not all of us can afford lawyers to fight this 'mandate.'"
- Matt Smith, president of Catholic Advocate: "Aug. 1 will be remembered as the day our most cherished liberty was thrown in a government dumpster and hauled away. A day when family owned small businesses were forced to abandon their religious beliefs to provide products and services for free. And if they don't, they will be taxed and fined at a time when job creators are struggling with enough costs and bureaucratic red-tape at every level of government just to stay in business. While the courts have provided a reprieve for one family business in Colorado, the government will never be able to repair the broken conscience of thousands of others until this mandate is removed."
- Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica: "August 1st is a day that will live in infamy for the First Amendment and the fundamental freedoms and rights we as a people have enjoyed since the founding of our nation. The HHS mandate imposed on the American people is the beginning of the end of freedom as America has known it and loved it. August 1st marks the day when many family owned and operated businesses lose their rights to exercise their faith in their daily lives. The government has told them – either comply with this mandate in violation of your faith and do what we tell you, or you will pay crippling faith fines to the federal government. With the stroke of a pen, the Obama administration has shredded the First Amendment and the Constitution right before our eyes."
- Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute: "The Obama administration's assault on religious liberty is taking root … Failure to comply with the mandate will result in penalties that could cost business millions of dollars. The administration clearly did not reach a much-vaunted 'accommodation' with business owners who strongly oppose the mandate and believe it is a clear violation of their constitutional protection of religious liberty. The HHS mandate forces business owners to choose between following their religious beliefs or obedience to the federal government. The Obama administration clearly believes the government is supreme and that individuals and businesses must bow to its dictates or suffer severe consequences. We know that Obamacare is wrong for America. The HHS anti-conscience mandate is clear evidence of why the law violates the most fundamental principles upon which our country is founded."
- Gary Marx, executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition: "Confidence in the system and hope for religious liberty was mildly restored when a federal district judge issued a temporary injunction blocking Barack Obama's health-care mandate from compelling a business to provide insurance coverage of sterilization, contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs. This is certainly a victory, but the fact that it only applies to one company means the federal government is still going to force millions of Americans to choose between having health insurance or their conscience and faith. With an administration intent on suppressing religious liberty, we can expect a historic turnout of voters of faith show up in November."
- Penny Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America: "The only solution that has been provided to the majority of Americans is to stand up and fight for their religious rights by refusing to comply or battling in court. ... We must remember the wise words of Thomas Jefferson, 'All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.' To force religious groups to deny their deeply held convictions is not called balance; it is called tyranny."
- Jeanne Monahan, director of the Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity: "Today as a result of this initial implementation of the HHS mandate, the relationship between the separation of church and state is critically changed. Americans can no longer follow their consciences or religious dictates on issues as critical as abortion-inducing drugs. Organizations such as Wheaton College, or businesses such as Weingartz Supply of Ann Arbor, Mich.,will be forced to violate their consciences. On this sad day Americans have no 'choice' in this matter."
- David Stevens, MD and CEO of the Christian Medical Association: "What will stop this administration, with its radical pro-abortion agenda, from further undermining conscience rights and pursuing policies that effectively force out of medicine physicians with life-honoring convictions? Who will keep government panels from effectively denying physicians and patients choice about what are the most effective and appropriate medicines, surgeries and treatments? We call on Congress to turn back this law's assault on our freedoms and restore American values and constitutional principles in health care."
- Paul E. Rondeau, executive director of American Life League: "History tragically teaches us that if our government can abolish one constitutional right, then all constitutional rights are put in jeopardy. This path sets a dangerous and foolish precedent that First Amendments rights such as freedom of speech, association, freedom of the press and the rights to assemble and petition the government may be just as easily curtailed in the future. We call on all citizens to tell their elected representatives that this erosion of rights must not stand."
- Kristin Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America: "Today marks the beginning of the end of religious and conscience rights in America. As an employer, I am forced to make a false choice between providing a vital service to my employees and violating my conscience and values. The abortion-pill mandate is an egregious attack upon my rights, as well as the rights of all people of values and faith in America."