The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 13, 2012

Conestoga files federal lawsuit challenging national healthcare mandates

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— BEAVERTOWN — Conestoga Wood Specialties has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate is a violation of the Mennonite business owner’s constitutional rights and “deeply held religious beliefs.”

The Lancaster County-based business with operations in Beavertown and Beaver Springs alleges that the mandate, which requires that most employers offer health insurance that covers birth control, would “be sinful and immoral” to participate in, the lawsuit said.

Conestoga’s mission statement says the company “operates in a professional environment founded upon the highest ethical, moral and Christian principles.”

“(Conestoga) provides health insurance benefits to their employees that omits coverage of abortifacient drugs,” the lawsuit reads. “The plan renews each year on Jan. 1, the next renewal date (being) on Jan. 1, 2013, creating the very real potential for harm to the plantiffs and their sincerely held religious beliefs if forced to include such coverage.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, is asking for an injunction delaying the application of the mandate.

The claims are based on the First and Fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution — freedom of religion and protection against abuse of government authority in a legal procedure, respectively — and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Conestoga’s federal lawsuit is the 41st and most recent against portions of Obamacare.

The main issue for Conestoga’s owners — Norman, Norman L. and Anthony Hahn — is the inclusion of abortifacient drugs, such as Plan B, also known as the “morning after pill” and the counseling and education requirements related to these services, said Charles Proctor, the lawyer representing Conestoga in the case.

“This is a direct violation of my clients’ deeply held religious beliefs in the sanctity of human life,” he said.

The penalties for not providing these services would be devastating for the business, Proctor said.

“The penalties are so severe that they could put my client out of business,” he said.

There are 41 lawsuits challenging the birth-control mandate in federal court. Some — including one by the Pittsburgh Catholic diocese — have been tossed out, but Proctor remains confident his clients will be awarded an exemption.

While Lisa Wehr, assistant director of Family Planning Plus in Lewisburg, understands the concerns of religious individuals about providing birth control, there are numerous health benefits provided to women by the medication, she said.

“(Insurance) covers other types of medication, so (birth control) should be something that they cover as well,” she said. “It’s like any other medication.”

Scenarios like having pregnancies too close together can be dangerous for mothers and are preventable with access to birth control, Wehr said.

“I do feel that it’s important for a woman’s health to be able to protect herself,” she said.

However, birth control is more accessible than ever in Pennsylvania, where new programs are making it easier to get affordable contraceptives, Wehr said.

“It’s much better now,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.