Minnetonka religious objector to federal contraception mandate wins reprieve

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 7, 2013 - 10:11 PM

The lawsuit by a Minnetonka employer on religious grounds is one of dozens nationally challenging the law.

 

A small medical device firm in Minnetonka has won a temporary reprieve from a new federal requirement that its employee health insurance include contraception coverage.

A court order issued last week bars the government from enforcing a mandate under the Affordable Care Act — known as “Obamacare” — while the company’s owner challenges the requirement as a violation of his constitutional right to freedom of religion.

The order was issued by a three-judge panel for the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Stuart Lind, 57, of Edina, and Tom Janas, 57, of Delano, jointly filed suit against the government in Minneapolis in November seeking exemptions from a mandate that requires all group health plans to provide coverage at no cost for certain approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures and reproduction counseling.

The mandate, which takes effect at different times for different companies, has prompted several dozen lawsuits across the country as self-insured religious organizations and deeply religious business owners like Lind and Janas seek exemptions.

“My prediction is that one or two of these cases … will go to the U.S. Supreme Court this year or next year, and they’ll have the final word,” said Erick Kaardal, who represents Lind and Janas.

President Obama’s administration has been unable to quell the complaints. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new compromise that would exempt churches and nonprofit religious organizations from paying for such services. Under the proposal, their employees would instead obtain those services from a separate insurer who would offset the costs through ­market efficiencies.

Lind, the owner of Annex Medical, and Janas, an entrepreneur who has owned ­several businesses in the dairy industry, are devout Catholics. Their lawsuit notes that the Catholic Church teaches that contraception, sterilization, abortion and use of drugs such as the so-called morning after pill are “intrinsically evil and immoral because they are capable of preventing or destroying a human life.”

Annex Medical and Sacred Heart Medical make and market disposable devices for endoscopes, including retrieval and biopsy devices. Lind, who owns both companies, is such a devout Catholic that he officially “consecrated” his firms in a 2001 ceremony to recognize “the Kingship of Jesus Christ” over the businesses.

Several years earlier, Lind discontinued a line of heart biopsy forceps after learning that they were used to harvest organs of “brain dead” patients before their hearts had stopped beating, he said in court papers. “I believe that life is a fundamental right received from our Creator and that it is morally unacceptable to end prematurely the life of a dying person,” he wrote.

And in 2002, Lind said, he ended Annex Medical’s relationship with American Express after learning that the financial services company contributes to Planned Parenthood.

Lind initially sought to enjoin the government from enforcing the mandate while his lawsuit proceeds. In January, U.S. District Judge David Doty rejected his motion for a preliminary injunction.

Lind appealed that ruling to the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis.

Circuit Judges Roger Wollman of Sioux Falls, S.D., James Loken of Minneapolis, and Steven Colloton of Des Moines issued an order Feb. 1 granting Lind’s request for a preliminary injunction, pending a resolution of the appeal. The order bars the government from enforcing its regulations against Lind, Annex Medical and any health insurer that offers group coverage to Annex Medical.

Lind’s case is unusual insofar as Annex Medical has just 16 full-time and two part-time employees and wouldn’t be required to provide medical coverage under Obamacare, which only applies to companies with 50 or more workers. Lind says in his lawsuit that as a Catholic business owner, he believes he has a moral duty to provide medical coverage for his employees.

Yet his pastor at Holy Trinity parish told him it would be sinful to provide insurance that contradicts his conscience and Catholic teachings, Lind said.

 

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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