A St. Joseph, Minn., employer has received a religious exemption to the federal mandate requiring birth control coverage in workplace health insurance, a case that stems from the Hobby Lobby ruling that weakened a key plank of Obamacare.
American Manufacturing Co. won an exemption based on the fact that its owner, Gregory Hall, is an ordained Catholic deacon in Texas who fundamentally opposes the types of birth control and sterilization specified in the Affordable Care Act of 2010. The law would have required the firm's insurance to fully cover those procedures for its roughly 40 employees.
"I hope that the results … will encourage others to follow the dictates of their religious beliefs and stand up and assert their fundamental and legal rights," Hall said in a statement sent by his St. Cloud-based law firm.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that small companies such as Hobby Lobby could seek religious exemptions to the birth control coverage mandate, the U.S. Department of Justice hastened settlements of the dozens of similar cases across the U.S., said Thomas Mathews, one of Hall's attorneys.
The permanent injunction issued for Hall's company was a result of settlement negotiations with the Justice Department, and was the first such ruling in Minnesota, Mathews added. It received relatively little attention when the U.S. District Court issued the ruling on the eve of Thanksgiving, but gained additional notice Thursday when Planned Parenthood issued a statement against it.
"It is unbelievable that in 2014, there's still a fight going on about whether women should have access to birth control," said Sarah Stoesz, president of the Planned Parenthood chapter for Minnesota and the Dakotas. "We know firsthand that access to birth control is both a health care and economic concern for women."
The exemption required only a religious objection by the business owner, Mathews said. It is unclear whether any of Hall's employees, about half of whom are women, share his views on birth control.
While the birth control mandate has been in effect for months, Hall had received a preliminary injunction in 2013 against birth control coverage until his lawsuit was resolved.
Hall and American Manufacturing gained international attention in 2010 for their assistance in rescuing 33 miners from a cave-in in Chile. The company makes pumps and other equipment for drilling and mining operations.
Mathews said this case was unique in that it involved an ordained minister who owns a secular company. The Hobby Lobby case involved a lay business owner with strict beliefs. Other lawsuits have involved insurance for employees of religious entities such as the Little Sisters of the Poor.