A Lancaster County woodworking business is in the national spotlight this week, with its case going before the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue is the Affordable Care Act’s so called “birth control mandate,” but some legal scholars think the case could have broader implications.
Conestoga Wood, in East Pearl, Pa., is half a century old. It’s a for-profit-businesses founded and run by a Mennonite family, the Hahns. They employ about 1,000 people full time, and offer health benefits. The family objects to a rule in the ACA requiring that most businesses offer workers no-cost contraceptive coverage as part of their health plans.
“This is a religious liberty issue that is concerning to us, we feel the government goes too far,” owner Anthony Hahn stated in a video made by a group that’s representing his case. Hahn specfically objects to having to cover the “morning after pill” and intrauterine devices. “It’s been concerning to us as a family. Really, really concerning.”
He says the fines for not complying would put Conestoga out of business.
So he filed suit.
About 100 other businesses nationwide have done the same, though Conestoga has joined a challenge with the arts-and-crafts retail chain, Hobby Lobby.
Oral arguments are slated for Tuesday.
“In its broadest sense, the claim from the companies that are challenging the application of the Affordable Care Act is that first, corporations possess their own religious freedom rights, and that corporations who exercise those religious freedom rights get to exempt themselves from otherwise generally applicable laws,” said Ted Ruger, a constitutional law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ruger is not involved in the case but is watching it closely.
“In this case, the companies are objecting to the mandatory provision of contraception in the health insurance package, but one could imagine other cases where companies object to anti-discrimination laws, for instance, that mandate equal treatment of men and women or equal treatment of customers in same-sex marriages,” Ruger says.
The Supreme Court has traditionally held that private corporations don’t have the same religious freedom rights as individuals, Ruger says, but some lower courts have now ruled in favor of businesses that don’t want to provide birth control coverage. “That is truly a novel holding,” says Ruger, “and it remains to be seen if the Supreme Court justices are comfortable upholding that.”
A decision is expected by late June.