'Contraception mandate' goes before SCOTUS

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Indiana Lawyer Focus

A Madison family business is at the forefront of a legal challenge the Supreme Court of the United States will conference over Nov. 26 – whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “contraception mandate” violates the religious liberties of company owners whose faith proscribes birth control.

The Roman Catholic owners of Grote Industries, which manufactures vehicle safety systems, objected to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers provide universal access to contraception. Grote’s owners won a divided 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Nov. 8 blocking enforcement of the mandate, the farthest-reaching holding among a host of cases rising through the federal judiciary.

contraception-grotefactoryshot-15col.jpg A worker at Madison-based Grote Industries examines a product in a company lab. The maker of vehicle safety systems won an injunction blocking enforcement of the Affordable Care Act contraception mandate because of company owners’ religious beliefs. (Photo submitted)

“The Grote family has run its business for over a century and simply wants to earn a living consistent with its faith commitments and duties to God,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel at the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance Defending Freedom, who successfully argued on behalf of the Indiana company owners before the federal appellate court.

“Obamacare imposes massive penalties on families for providing generous benefits just because those families refuse to sign on to the government’s anti-life, anti-pregnancy agenda,” Bowman said in an interview after the ruling.

The 7th Circuit opinion in two consolidated cases – William D. Grote III, et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al., 13-1077, and Cyril B. Korte, et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al., 12-3841 – is the first federal court opinion formally affirming the grant of a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the mandate.

Other circuits have split, and at a conference Nov. 26, the Supreme Court will have before it cert petitions on these cases that also challenge the contraception mandate:

Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius, 13-482, a 6th Circuit opinion affirming the District Court, which rejected standing on religious liberty claims for the Roman Catholic owners of a Michigan company who argued penalties under the mandate would have ruinous consequences for the business;

Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, 13-356, a 3rd Circuit ruling denying a preliminary injunction for Mennonite owners of a Pennsylvania maker of cabinet parts, and;

Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, 13-354, a 10th Circuit decision remanding denial of a preliminary injunction for owners of a crafts-store chain organized with express religious principles, but which sought to qualify the kinds of companies that may claim religious exemptions.

Bowman’s group also represents the Conestoga plaintiffs and believes the 7th Circuit’s recent decision is bound to have some bearing on the justices’ deliberations. “It demonstrates that the majority of courts have recognized religious freedom,” he said.

Court watchers believe that one or more of the challenges may be added to the cases to be heard in spring 2014. Bowman expects Grote also will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

All of the suits in some way invoke the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, but the majority of the 7th Circuit found not just that Act implicated, but agreed that the Grotes’ First and Fifth Amendment rights would be violated by the contraception mandate.

“The plaintiffs are not asking the government to pay for anything. They are asking for relief from a regulatory mandate that coerces them to pay for something – insurance coverage for contraception – on the sincere conviction that doing so violates their religion,” Circuit Judge Diane Sykes wrote in the majority opinion joined by Judge Joel Flaum. “They have made a strong case that RFRA entitles them to that relief.”

The majority held that the Grotes “have a direct and personal interest in vindicating their individual religious-liberty rights, even though the rights of their closely held corporations are also at stake.”

But in a dissent of more than 90 pages, Judge Ilana Rovner wrote that the ruling “represents a dramatic turn in free exercise jurisprudence” that could open the door to a host of challenges to federal regulations based on individual religious beliefs.

The opinion “bestows a highly personal right to religious exercise on two secular, for-profit corporations that have no facility of thought, conscience or belief,” Rovner wrote. “It deems the religious rights of the plaintiffs burdened by the contraception mandate without consideration of the indirect and minimal intrusion on their exercise of religion. And it disregards the extent to which the exemption from the mandate burdens the rights of the plaintiffs’ employees.”

Rovner said the majority’s holding hypothetically could prevent employees from obtaining embryonic stem-cell therapy; allow Christian Scientist business owners to severely restrict access to medical care pursuant to limits based on their beliefs; or deny coverage to same-sex couples even in states that permit such unions, if the corporation’s owners have a religious objection to same-sex marriage.

johnsen-dawn-mug Johnsen

“You could write 20 more like that,” Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Dawn Johnsen said of the cautionary hypotheticals. She acknowledges a personal feeling that the dissent is correct in the 7th Circuit opinion, but she said the majority opinion also was thorough and impressive.

Johnsen argues that because it’s the employee’s choice to use contraception rather than an employer’s, the employer’s religious liberties aren’t “substantially burdened,” as required under RFRA. “Given that indirectness, how attenuated that is, it would be a true slippery slope to find this to be a substantial burden,” she said.

The Supreme Court “has to resolve this very dramatic split among the circuits,” Johnsen said. “This, I’d say, is going to be a closely divided court and it’s very difficult to guess which way it’s more likely to go.”

Justices are likely to take at least one of the cases from the Nov. 26 conference, Johnsen said, but they also likely will cite and rely on the 7th Circuit holding. She said all the key issues can be reached in the cases already before the court. She believes it’s unlikely the court would delay acting on at least one of the current petitions.

“The main issues include the status of the corporation both in holding rights and in having standing to assert rights, and then (rights of) the owners of the corporation,” Johnsen said.

On those issues, the 3rd Circuit held in Conestoga that “a for-profit, secular corporation cannot engage in the exercise of religion” and its owners have no claim against the contraception mandate. A related Federal Circuit ruling, meanwhile, held that for-profit corporations may not challenge the law on religious grounds, but that companies organized differently with individual owners may, according to the 7th Circuit’s opinion.•


  • On target
    John Smith .... direct hit. I made a similar argument to the SCOTUS after the Ind S.Ct. upheld an allegedly religiously biased conclusion of the BLE. See the section of this brief on free exercise and the establishment clause. Our governing structures are a series of Christian Republics that assumed a foundation in the common view of God's overriding provision for and endorsement of the state. We have evolved (devolved) into a series of secular states ruled over by a largely unelectable bureaucratic elite bent on scrubbing the past to control the present and thus forge the future. Conflict is a predictable result.
  • american slogans disproven again
    Obviously in cases like these the shibboleth "diversity is our strength" is disproven with stark clarity. Diversity of religious belief clearly leads to a lot of strife and upset that places with religious homogeneaity do not experience. And other odd results like where our government's feigned religious neutrality becomes itself the tool of suppressing certain sects. Sects which are usually always one iteration of serious Christians or another.

    Post a comment to this story

    We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
    You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
    Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
    No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
    We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

    Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

    Sponsored by
    Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
    1. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

    2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

    3. Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh who is helping Sister Fuller with this Con Artist Kevin Bart McCarthy scares Sister Joseph Therese, Patricia Ann Fuller very much that McCarthy will try and hurt Patricia Ann Fuller and Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh or any member of his family. Sister is very, very scared, (YES, I AM) This McCarthy guy is a real, real CON MAN and crook. I try to totall flatter Kevin Bart McCARTHY to keep him from hurting my best friends in this world which are Carolyn Rose and Paul Hartman. I Live in total fear of this man Kevin Bart McCarthy and try to praise him as a good man to keep us ALL from his bad deeds. This man could easy have some one cause us a very bad disability. You have to PRAISAE in order TO PROTECT yourself. He lies and makes up stories about people and then tries to steal if THEY OWN THRU THE COURTS A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO PROTECT, EX> Our Lady of America DEVOTION. EVERYONE who reads this, PLEASE BE CAREFUL of Kevin Bart McCarthy of Indianapolis, IN My Phone No. IS 419-435-3838.

    4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

    5. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.