Federal court exempts Mich. company from contraception mandate

A federal judge in Michigan threw out one lawsuit against the Obama administration's contraception mandate while handing a small victory to the policy's critics in a separate suit.

The court said one Michigan company does not have to comply with the mandate, which requires most employers in the U.S. to cover contraception in their employees' healthcare plans without charging a co-pay or deductible.

The Michigan ruling is a narrow one, applicable only to the one company. It does not bar the Health and Human Services Department from implementing the policy nationwide, but it's nevertheless a small win for social conservatives who say the contraception policy violates the First Amendment.

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The Michigan case was filed by the owner of Weingartz Supply, a family-owned business that does not provide contraception in its health plan because of the owner's Catholic faith.

The judge did not rule on the question of whether the mandate is constitutional, but it granted the company an injunction, exempting Weingartz from enforcement while its constitutional claims are under debate.

The court said neither HHS nor Weingartz had a clear upper hand on the merits, but that the government had less to lose from an enforcement delay. A ruling on the merits won't happen until the policy is in effect, the court noted.

"The harm in delaying the implementation of a statute that may later be deemed constitutional must yield to the risk presented here of substantially infringing the sincere exercise of religious beliefs," the court wrote.

The same court also dismissed a lawsuit filed by Legatus, a nonprofit Catholic group. Legatus is an explicitly religious organization, rather than a business owned by a Catholic, and HHS has said the contraception mandate will not apply to religious-affiliated institutions.

Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the mandate altogether. Religious-affiliated institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and charities, will not have to pay for contraception themselves, but their insurance companies will have to make it available — still without any cost-sharing, and also without raising the religious group's premiums to cover the cost.

Legatus falls within that safe harbor and therefore cannot sue because it won't be subject to the mandate, the Michigan court said.