DENVER (AP) - A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Friday barring penalties - for now - against a Colorado business whose health coverage for employees doesn't cover birth control.
The Obama administration's health care package requires group health plans to offer no-cost preventive care coverage to women for items including birth control. The Colorado-based heating and air conditioning business Hercules Industries Inc. is run by a family whose Roman Catholic beliefs condemn contraception, but the company doesn't qualify as a religious employer exempt from providing the coverage. Under the legislation, Hercules would soon have to offer it.
Hercules Industries, owned by William Newland and his siblings, sought relief in court.
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge John Kane issued a preliminary injunction keeping the government from penalizing Hercules Industries while the company's lawsuit proceeds. Kane noted that his order doesn't keep the government from enforcing the mandate against anyone else.
President Tony Perkins, president of the socially conservative Family Research Council, said the ruling underscores the need for Congress to act to protect others like the Newlands.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney released a statement saying the freedom to live according to one's faith must be available to all Americans. He said the injunction was a step in the right direction.
However Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecil Richards said there is no reason a private, for-profit business owner should be able to demand an exception from the mandate, denying employees coverage that others will have.
The Newlands say they are trying to run their company in a way that reflects their religious beliefs. The federal government has argued that a for-profit, secular corporation can't exercise religion.
"Can a corporation exercise religion? Should a closely-held subchapter-s corporation owned and operated by a small group of individuals professing adherence to uniform religious beliefs be treated differently than a publicly held corporation owned and operated by a group of stakeholders with diverse religious beliefs? ... These questions merit more deliberate investigation," Kane wrote in his ruling.
He also said the government's argument that exempting Hercules Industries would hurt its ability to administer the health care law was undermined by exemptions for more than 190 million health plan participants and beneficiaries.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a written statement she was disappointed with Kane's decision and was confident the preventive care mandate would ultimately be upheld.
"Preventive services are critical to women's health, and the administration is committed to ensuring women have access to the health care they need regardless of where they work. Health decisions should be between women and their doctors, not their employers," she said.
- By Catherine Tsai, AP Writer
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
for more features.