* Couple says contraceptives provision violates their faith
* Court found "substantial burden" on religious exercise
By Jonathan Stempel
Dec 29 A divided federal appeals court has
temporarily barred the U.S. government from requiring an
Illinois company to obtain insurance coverage for
contraceptives, as required under the 2010 healthcare overhaul,
after the owners objected on religious grounds.
More than 40 lawsuits are challenging a requirement in the
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires most
for-profit companies to offer workers insurance coverage for
contraceptive drugs and devices and other birth control methods.
Friday's 2-1 order by a panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals in Chicago in favor of Cyril and Jane Korte was the
first by a federal appeals court to temporarily halt enforcement
against people who said it violated their faith, said Edward
White, a lawyer for the Roman Catholic couple.
It came two days after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia
Sotomayor declined to block the provision's enforcement against
companies controlled by the family of Oklahoma City billionaire
The U.S. Department of Justice, which had defended the
contraceptives provision, did not immediately respond on
Saturday to a request for comment.
The Kortes, who own the construction firm Korte & Luitjohan
Contractors, had sought to drop a health insurance plan for 20
non-unionized workers that included coverage for contraception,
and substitute a different plan consistent with their faith.
But the Obama administration's healthcare law did not allow
the change, and the Kortes said that violated the First
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the federal Religious
Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA.
In issuing an injunction, the 7th Circuit majority said the
Kortes had established a reasonable likelihood of success on the
merits of their RFRA claim, and that the government had not yet
justified the apparent "substantial burden" on their religious
The court also said the couple had established irreparable
harm, because absent an injunction they would have to choose
between maintaining insurance coverage they considered
inappropriate or facing substantial financial penalties.
"Business owners who are objecting to the mandate are not
objecting to people using contraceptives, but that they have to
arrange for and pay for it," White, a lawyer with the American
Center for Law and Justice, said in a phone interview. "The
federal government shouldn't tell business owners they have to
contract to buy what they see as immoral services and goods."
Judges Joel Flaum and Diane Sykes comprised the 7th Circuit
Judge Ilana Rovner dissented. She said the Kortes were
"multiple steps" removed from the contraceptives services
because it was their company paying for the coverage, and
because it would be a worker, her doctor and the insurer
involved in the decisions about the services and their funding.
The Kortes' case is expected to continue in the 7th Circuit.
Neither the 7th Circuit nor Sotomayor ruled on the merits of
their respective cases. The legal standard for obtaining an
injunction from the Supreme Court is much higher.
The case is Korte et al v. Sebelius, 7th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals, No. 12-3841.