Related Story: New health-care provisions start intense debate
Hercules Industries, a Denver-based air conditioning company, won an injunction in federal court that prohibits the government from enforcing the birth control mandate. The injunction applies only to Hercules and not to any other companies.
Paul Newland is one of four siblings who runs Hercules. For him, this issue goes beyond women's health.
"We have to choose between one of two evils," Newland said. "We can either abandon our faith, which is important to us, or we can pay heavy fines which would cripple our business."
Federal Judge John Kane, who was appointed by Democratic President Carter, ripped apart the government's argument that forcing Hercules to provide birth control would go against the public interest.
"The government has exempted over 190 million health plan participants," wrote the judge. "This massive exemption completely undermines any compelling interest in applying the preventive care coverage mandate to [Hercules]."
Kane is referring to exceptions in the healthcare law for old health plans grandfathered in. Hercules can't grandfather its plan, because it is self-insured and must renew its plan in November.
The healthcare law also allows an exception for religious employers such as churches. Private companies don't have an alternative.
The judge wrote that the Hercules lawsuit raised the difficult legal question: "can a corporation exercise religion?"
Newland stopped short of calling Hercules a "religious company" but says beliefs play an important role.
"Religion is the fabric of us as owners and many of the people that work for us," Newland said.
The judge described Hercules as a "secular" employer, which suggests he sees a legitimate threat to the religious liberty of the owners, but maybe not to the company they own.
The Hercules lawsuit is being argued free of charge by a group called "Alliance Defending Freedom," a legal group that describes itself as defending religious liberty.
It lobbied against civil unions in the Colorado state legislature, also on religious grounds.
On the other end of the spectrum, Planned Parenthood expressed disappointment with the injunction.
It says there's no reason a private company should get out of providing free birth control, a move designed to bring health costs down and make the system equal for women.
The Hercules case could take awhile. Both sides have a month to work on the schedule for the case ahead.
An appeal is likely either way the court rules.
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