HUFFINGTON POST
04/23/2013 12:44 pm ET Updated Apr 23, 2013

Seneca Lumber Company Wins Exemption From Obamacare Contraception Mandate

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A family-owned lumber company in Pennsylvania seems to have beat Obamacare, for now.

A federal district court judge ruled in favor of Seneca Hardwood Lumber Company in a suit filed against President Obama's administration over a provision of the health care reform law that requires employers to cover workers’ contraception. The favorable ruling means the western Pennsylvania business won't have to cover contraception for any of its 22 employees.

Wayne Hepler, whose family owns Seneca, argued in the suit that the they shouldn’t be required to cover contraception because it violates their deeply held Catholic beliefs, and therefore their government-protected religious freedom. The suit notes that “Hepler and his thirteen children are committed to the Catholic church’s teachings on human life and sexuality.”

"This is a family that provides generous benefits in their business and they want to be free to live according to their faith, but this Obamacare mandate is coercing them to violate their conscience," said Matt Bowman, the senior legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom who represented the plaintiffs in the case.

The Heplers and their companies "are being forced to choose between providing health insurance that is inconsistent with their beliefs or providing no insurance at all, a choice that puts them at a competitive disadvantage and forces their employees to purchase health insurance, which includes coverage for the objected to services, on their own,” the suit states.

As of February, nearly 50 employers nationwide had sued the Obama administration over the health care law's contraception provision. As a result, officials announced that nonprofit, religious-affiliated organizations would be exempt. But as a for-profit company, Seneca was still required to cover contraception under its health care plan.

Many other for-profit companies have sued the Obama administration over the contraception mandate, but it remains to be seen whether challenges like Seneca’s will hold up. A Michigan district court judge ruled in favor of Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, in a similar suit, allowing his Dominos Farms, Inc., which isn’t related to the pizza chain, to refuse to cover contraception for employees. But a Missouri federal judge ruled in different case in October that Obamacare's mandate doesn’t violate the religious freedom of companies that object to providing contraception.

Bowman's firm has 10 cases nationwide against the Obama administration over the contraception mandate, and he says they've obtained four injunctions so far. "The infringement of religious freedom by Obamacare is blatant," Bowman said. "We are going to continue to fight to protect religious freedom against an administration that refuses to obey the law."

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