Colorado Companies Fight Obamacare’s Abortion-pill Mandate

September 19, 2013
Cherry Creek Mortgage filed the lawsuit in March,

Cherry Creek Mortgage filed the lawsuit in March

DENVER—Republican Bill Armstrong left the U.S. Senate 22 years ago, but this week he notched a victory over President Obama’s signature legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Armstrong’s company, Cherry Creek Mortgage Co. in Greenwood Village, won a preliminary injunction Tuesday from Obamacare’s requirement for employers to provide abortion-inducing drugs as part of their health-care package.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson means the Obama administration is now batting less than .100 in its quest to compel private for-profit companies to comply with the health-care law’s abortion-pill mandate, said attorney Michael Norton.

“The court decisions are now 29 to 5 in favor of business owners,” said Norton, who represented Cherry Creek Mortgage as an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Even so, Norton said the Justice Department continues to challenge businesses that claim a religious exemption from the law based on the faith of the company’s owners.

“There are about 70 lawsuits in this one area, and the Obama administration keeps fighting them to the bitter end,” said Norton, the former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. “You’d think they would try to reach an accommodation of some kind at this point, but they don’t seem to care much what people think.”

The Obama administration did agree to allow churches an exemption from the law’s “minimum essential coverage” requirement, which includes covering the costs of abortion pills and birth control, while granting a temporary “safe harbor” for religious non-profits as rules are finalized.

For secular companies whose owners object to abortion based on their faith tradition, however, there has been no accommodation, leaving them  their religious principles and facing stiff financial penalties.

“For private for-profits, the Obama administration has drawn an absolute hard line,” Norton said. “They can’t assert that their religious rights are burdened by Obamacare’s abortion-pill mandate.”

Colorado companies have been at the forefront of challenging the mandate. The Newlands, the Catholic family that operates Hercules Industries in Denver, became the first business owners in the nation to win their bid for a religious exemption when a federal judge ruled in their favor in July 2012.

Last week, Stephen Briscoe, an evangelical Christian who owns companies that operate assisted-living centers in Colorado, was also granted a temporary injunction from the mandate.

Cherry Creek Mortgage, owned by the Armstrong and May families, filed the lawsuit in March, arguing that as evangelical Christians, they “specifically object to being forced to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and devices” for their 730 employees, according to a statement.

The latest rulings come after the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in July in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. against the Justice Department. That decision set off a domino effect prompting other federal judges within the court’s jurisdiction to grant temporary injunctions to companies seeking the same religious exemptions.

Ultimately, Norton said he expects one of the cases to reach the U.S. Supreme Court for a final decision.

“A lot of us are hoping to get there, but it’s not clear who’s going to get there first,” said Norton. “Colorado’s an interesting state in this regard. We’re very ecumenical, but we have a lot of faith-based organizations here.”

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