Hobby Lobby ruling aids Michigan woman's lawsuit

Hobby Lobby. Courtesy of the Becket Fund.

Following the Hobby Lobby decision upholding religious freedom, a woman business owner has secured a court injunction against the HHS mandate requiring coverage for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs.

Karen Mersino, who co-owns Mersino Management Company with her husband in Michigan, welcomed the ruling. “It’s a real win for religious freedom,” she said July 10.

The July 9 injunction from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit concerns the company’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The injunction reports that attorneys for the Mersinos’ company conferenced with government attorneys after the Supreme Court’s June 30 Hobby Lobby decision.

In the conference, the government’s attorneys dropped their opposition to the injunction request.

The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Thomas More Law Center is representing the Mersinos’ company.

Erin Mersino, senior trial counsel with the Thomas More Law Center, said the injunction gives “immediate relief from the illegal aims of the HHS mandate that violates our clients’ sincerely held religious beliefs.”

She said the business owners “truly live out their faith everyday through the integrity with which they treat others, through their numerous charitable works, and through their overwhelmingly selfless devotion to their community and Church.”

The HHS mandate’s required coverage for sterilization procedures and contraception, including some drugs that have caused abortions, have provided a particular burden for Catholics and others with pro-life religious and moral convictions. Non-compliance with the mandate is punished by severe fines.

The owners of Mersino Management Company are both Catholics. Their corporate offices all display a document that reads: “Honor God in all we do by serving our customers and employees with honesty and integrity.”

Pro-life groups are also challenging the mandate. Attorneys representing the non-profit March for Life, which runs the annual national pro-life march in Washington, D.C., filed a legal challenge against the mandate on July 8. They said the organization’s sincere moral beliefs bar it from cooperation in providing drugs that can cause abortion through its insurance programs.

The organization is being represented by attorneys from the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Pro-life organizations must be free to operate according to the beliefs they espouse,” said Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom. “The government should not be allowed to force them to pay for insurance coverage that covers drugs that can cause an abortion — the very tragedy March for Life and other pro-life groups oppose.”

The Supreme Court’s June 30 decision ruled that Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood Services and other closely-held for-profit corporations are protected against the mandate by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Many non-profit organizations, including Catholic dioceses, hospitals, universities, and charitable organizations, have filed legal challenges against the federal mandate. The outcome of those lawsuits is still pending.

—Catholic News Agency


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