What do a crafts supply chain, construction contractor, and health food company have in common? Over the past two weeks these for-profit companies have tried to convince appellate courts that their employees should be denied full insurance coverage of birth control at their bosses’ discretion. Today, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation — a wood cabinet manufacturer with 950 employees — becomes the fourth for-profit company to try to convince a circuit court in oral arguments for preliminary injunction that they should not have to comply with the federal birth control benefit.
Both the district court and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals have rejected Conestoga’s attempts to get out of complying with the birth control benefit by arguing that a for-profit company’s religious beliefs should overrule the government’s interest in protecting women and children’s health. However the company hasn’t heeded the courts’ warning that they’re unlikely to win.
The district court denied Conestoga the preliminary injunction they were requesting, stating “[T]he ultimate and deeply private choice to use [a particular method of] contraceptive rests not with the [owners], but with Conestoga’s employees… We also find that any burden imposed by the regulations is too attenuated to be considered substantial. A series of events must first occur before the actual use of [contraception] would come into play. These events include … a decision must be made by a Conestoga employee and her doctor, who may or may not choose to avail themselves to these services.” The 3rd Circuit agreed with this analysis in its order denying the plaintiffs’ motion for temporary injunctive relief. The courts agree that the plaintiffs have yet to make a compelling argument.
Tomorrow Conestoga will try again to convince the 3rd Circuit that a woman’s health care decisions should be in her bosses’ hands, not her own. The 3rd Circuit is unlikely to deem this a winning argument. Real religious freedom gives everyone the right to make personal decisions, including whether and when to use birth control, based on their own beliefs. Employers should not be allowed to use their religion to discriminate against employees. As the district court said, “Religious belief takes shape within the minds and hearts of individuals, and its protection is one of the more uniquely ‘human’ rights provided by the Constitution.” We hope tomorrow the court will respect the right of individuals to make health care decisions in line with their personal religious beliefs.