Injunction Issued Against Equal Access

Michigan Company Wins Temporary Right to Avoid Affordable Care Act

By Crystal Proxmire

On Oct. 31, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland, in the Eastern District of Michigan, issued an injunction that temporarily allows the owners of Michigan-based Weingartz Supply Company to deny contraceptive coverage in their health plans because they claim it violates their Catholic faith.

The injunction will remain in place during the duration of the company's lawsuit against the Obama Administration, Legatus et al.v Kathleen Sebelius, et al.

Weingartz filed along with a Catholic business owners association called Legatus, claiming that the Women's Health Amendment of the Affordable Care Act violated their freedom of religion. The Act offers an exemption for religious-based institutions and employers. However this case is the first injunction in Michigan that allows a secular, non-religious-based business to make a claim of exemption.

The ACA has a provision which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2013 that states that any company with over 50 employees, that is not in compliance, is subject to financial penalties. The temporary injunction delays those penalties while the trial goes on. It might also be used by other non-compliant businesses as a way to delay their implementation of women's health coverage requirements.

Weingartz Supply Company is an outdoor power equipment business where "equipment experts don't wear aprons," with locations in Utica, Ann Arbor, Farmington Hills and Cedar Springs. The family-owned business began in 1945, and according to court documents has only offered medical plans that do not include contraception.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed an amicus brief urging the judge not to grant the injunction stating, "The claims raised by Plaintiffs - that they have a right to discriminate against women and deny them benefits because of the companies' owners' religious beliefs - are, unfortunately, not new. Regrettably, not so very long ago, a secular school instituted a "Protestant-only" hiring policy based on the school's founder's religious preferences; employers claimed their right to religious freedom entitled them to pay men - who they considered to be the head of household based on their religious beliefs - more than women; businesses claimed that their right to religious liberty entitled them to discriminate against African-American customers in public accommodations; and universities claimed a religious liberty right to discriminate against African-American students. Fortunately, in each of these cases, courts squarely rejected the claims, recognizing that the right to religious liberty does not encompass the right to discriminate against others. This Court should come to the same conclusion here. Indeed, acceptance of Plaintiffs' claims would not only contravene this clear and consistent precedent, but would also open the door for arguments that countless anti-discrimination and other important laws should be unenforceable in the face of a claim that the discrimination is mandated by a religious belief."

Equality Michigan also responded to the injunction stating, "This court ruling is a defeat for the majority of Michigan residents, including people of faith, who feel that health care coverage should be provided free of discrimination. Allowing organizations to pick and choose what benefits their employees receive, which patients receive treatment, and what services they will provide people in medical distress is a clear threat to gay and transgender people and other minorities who, according to research, are more likely to face discrimination in health care and be denied services deemed necessary by their doctors. Equality Michigan recognizes that this ruling is a continuation of Michigan extremists' efforts to write a license to discriminate into Michigan's public policy implementation."

To learn more about the company that is working to set the precedent against access to basic women's healthcare, check out their website at http://weingartz.com.

To learn more about the organizations that are standing up for women's access, check out the ACLU at http://www.aclumich.org and Equality Michigan at http://www.equalitymi.org.

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