Obamacare’s contraception mandate loses in Colorado court

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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A coalition of civil rights groups has persuaded a Denver, Colo. judge that Obamacare’s preventive care coverage provides a “substantial burden” on a Colorado company’s free exercise of religion.

Judge John Kane, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, granted a “preliminary injunction” barring enforcement of the law against the family-owned company, pending a full trial.

“This is the very first ruling on whether Obamacare can violate religious freedom and the judge said no,” said Matt Bowman, a lawyer for legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund.

The Obamcare regulation was announced by President Barack Obama in February, and it established a process to review churches’ religious practices.

Churches that meet federal tests would be exempt from the Obamacare-related mandate to provide insurance that offered free contraception and abortion-related drugs to their employees, according to Obama’s regulation.

Obama’s controversial regulation prompted immediate protest from many churches and denominations, including the Catholic Church.

In turn, Democrats used that predictable protest to argue that conservatives and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney support a “war on women” that would prevent women from getting access to contraceptives.

Obama’s approval among single women subsequently rose several points amid the charges of a “war on women.”

Abortion-provider Planned Parenthood pushed that campaign-trail theme in a July 27 response to the court victory. “There is no reason why a private, for-profit business owner should be able to demand a personal exception from [Obamacare, and deny] his employees the same level of coverage that others will have,” said the statement from the group.

However, Obama’s ratings also fell among critical swing-voting Catholics in battleground states including Ohio and Pennsylvania. Religious groups, including the Catholic Church, promised to launch an intensive campaign to inform their congregations about the impact of Obama’s unprecedented regulation of their churches.

Bowman’s case is Newland v. Sebelius. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Colorado by Hercules Industries — a private company that manufactures heating and air-conditioning products.

Preliminary injunctions are usually granted when the judge believe the plaintiff has a strong case. The judge recognized that the Obamacare mandate violates the Constitution and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Bowman said.

The Constitution and the law require the government to have a compelling reason for church-related regulation, and to use alternative means wherever possible, he said.

The Obamacare mandate, he added, “could easily be served by the government providing contraceptive themselves … if there was the political will.”

“This principle applies to all of those [religious freedom] cases that have been applied and will be applied,” Bowman said.

More than 24 cases have been filed against Obama’s regulation of churches.

According to the regulation, church groups must provide free birth-control services to employees who are not engaged in what government officials deem to be direct religious activities. The rule ensures that the churches would have to provide services that they believe are unethical to employees working in schools, hospitals and charities established for religious purposes.

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Neil Munro