On December 4, 2012, a family of Mennonite Christian business owners filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under the First and Fifth Amendments, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), and the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"), against the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel and the Independence Law Center, asked the court for both declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that federal rules adopted pursuant to the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA") violated their religious freedom by requiring them to provide coverage for contraception through their company's group health insurance plans. Specifically, the plaintiffs objected to the ACA rules requiring them to provide coverage for emergency contraception, which the plaintiffs considered an abortifacient. Claiming that providing coverage for emergency contraception would both contravene their Christian faith and compel speech contrary to their beliefs, the plaintiffs sought an exemption from the ACA's contraception mandate for themselves and other business owners with similar religious objections.
On December 28, 2012, the District Court (Judge Berle M. Schiller) issued an order temporarily restraining the defendants from enforcing the contraception mandate against the plaintiffs, for a period of fourteen days. Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, 2012 WL 7055773, slip op. (E.D. Pa. Dec. 28, 2012). Judge Schiller found that, as the plaintiffs did not qualify for any exemptions and were required to comply with the mandate by January 1, 2013, they had demonstrated a threat of imminent, irreparable harm sufficient to justify temporary relief pending a preliminary injunction hearing.
On January 11, 2013, the District Court (Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg) denied the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that secular, for-profit corporations such as Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. did not have a constitutional right to religious freedom, and that the individual plaintiffs were not likely to prevail because the mandate was a neutral law of general applicability that was reasonably related to a legitimate government purpose. The Court further found that indirect financial support of subjectively objectionable conduct was not a substantial burden on the plaintiffs' religious freedom. Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, 2013 WL 140110 (E.D. Pa. Jan 11, 2013).
The plaintiffs appealed the injunction denial to the Third Circuit (Case No. 13-1144). On January 16, 2013, District Court Judge Goldberg granted the defendants' joint motion to stay the district court proceedings pending the Third Circuit appeal. On February 8, 2013, the Court of Appeals (Judge Marjorie O. Rendell and Judge Leonard I. Garth, with Judge Kent A. Jordan dissenting) denied the plaintiffs' emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal on the same grounds as the District Court's injunction denial. Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, 2013 WL 1277419 (3d Cir. Feb. 8, 2013). The case was argued before a Third Circuit panel (Judges Kent A. Jordan, Thomas I. Vanaskie, and Robert E. Cowen) on May 30, 2013.
On August 13, 2013, the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's judgment and denied the motion to stay enforcement of the mandate until the Supreme Court ruled on the case.
On November 26, 2013, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and consolidated this case with Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius
, a similar case before the Western District of Oklahoma.
On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit. In 5-4 opinion by Justice Alito, the Court held that the HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate RFRA, when applied to closely-held for-profit corporations. The Court emphasized, however, that alternative methods for meeting the government's asserted interest were available. To quote the syllabus (which summarizes the opinion), "the Government could, e.g., assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers' religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate. That accommodation does not impinge on the plaintiffs' religious beliefs that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion and it still serves HHS's stated interests." In addition, the Court insisted that its opinion was narrow: "This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer's religious beliefs. Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice." Justice Ginsburg wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan (although Breyer and Kagan did not sign on to a few pages of the dissent that argued that for-profit corporations lacked rights under RFRA; they said this issue need not yet be decided).
On August 14, 2014, the District Court entered a preliminary injunction in accordance with the Supreme Court's decision while the parties responded to the court's proposed permanent injunction. On October 2, 2014 the Court entered a permanent injunction enjoining defendants from enforcing the contraceptive services mandate against the plaintiffs and their health plan. On January 23, 2015, plaintiffs filed notice that their attorney fees and costs had been settled. Hannah Swanson - 06/03/2013
Mallory Jones - 02/18/2014
Kate Craddock - 02/20/2016