Catholic Company Temporarily Forced to Comply With HHS Mandate

Federal court denies a preliminary injunction to Mersino Management Co., forcing it to provide contraceptive coverage.

WASHINGTON — While its lawsuit continues through the court system, Mersino Management Co. will be forced to offer contraceptive coverage to its workers under the HHS mandate, despite its owners’ Catholic faith.

A July 11 decision of U.S. district court Judge Paul Boreman denied a preliminary injunction against the contraception mandate to the owners and shareholders of the business, Karen and Rodney Mersino.

They “have not demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on their claims, because it appears more likely to the court that Mersino Management, as a secular for-profit company, cannot ‘exercise’ religion and cannot act as the alter ego of its owners in challenging the contraceptive mandate,” Boreman wrote.

He added in his decision that, “as individuals, the Mersinos have not demonstrated a clear likelihood of success because the regulations do not substantially burden them in the exercise of their individual religious beliefs.”

The HHS mandate is a directive issued under the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to offer and support health-insurance plans that include contraceptive products, sterilizations and some drugs that can cause early abortions, even against the employers’ deeply held religious beliefs.

More than 200 nonprofit and for-profit organizations have filed lawsuits against the mandate on grounds that it violates their religious freedom.

In response to these concerns, the Obama administration has offered an “accommodation” to the mandate for religious nonprofit organizations, but religious-freedom advocates have argued that it does not adequately protect these institutions from cooperation in the provision of the objectionable services.

Nor does it apply to for-profit companies such as Mersino Management.

The Mersinos, who are Catholic and thus object to the mandate’s requirements on religious principles, filed suit against the mandate and its enforcement on March 22.

Boreman’s opinion argued that, while the Mersinos themselves may be religious, the company itself is not because “it does not employ persons of only a particular religious faith, [and] it does not purport to conduct religious services as part of its business model.”

He added that, as a corporation, Mersino Management “is not an individual or a nonprofit religious organization entitled to protection in the free exercise of its religious beliefs.”

The district court ruling opposes a federal appeals’ court decision two weeks ago suspending the enforcement of the HHS mandate against Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned for-profit company that objects to some of the potentially abortion-causing drugs covered by the mandate.

In its 5-3 ruling, the judges in the 10th Circuit Court of appeals argued that, because the mandate would force the company’s owners “to violate their sincere religious beliefs, their exercise of religion is substantially burdened.”