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Federal appeals court here resurrects battle against ACA mandate on contraceptive coverage

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 29, 2012 - U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is lauding a decision by the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in St. Louis, that is temporarily blocking enforcement of a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring employer-provided insurance to cover contraception.

The 8th Circuit voted to delay the provision while St. Louis businessman Frank R. O’Brien continues his court fight against the requirement. O’Brien, a Catholic, contends that it would violate his religious beliefs to provide such coverage for his 87 employees.

The court’s decision, handed down Wednesday, was somewhat unexpected because a lower-court judge earlier had tossed out O’Brien’s suit. The 8th Circuit has now revived it, at least until it rules on his appeal.

Blunt had lost a Senate battle last spring to insert a conscience-clause provision into the Affordable Care Act.

“This decision is yet another important victory as we fight to preserve the fundamental religious freedom that Americans have enjoyed for more than 220 years,” said Blunt.

President Barack Obama’s administration had sought to assuage opponents by exempting religious institutions from the contraceptive-coverage mandate, but mandating that insurance companies offer the coverage free of charge to employees who seek it.

According to the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing O’Brien, he oversees a holding company that “operates a number of businesses that explore, mine, and process refractory and ceramic raw materials.”

O’Brien’s lawsuit was filed last March – the same month as Blunt’s failed Senate vote and “marked the first legal challenge to the (federal) mandate from a private business owner and his company,” the law center said in a statement. “Until the suit was filed, only religious organizations or institutions brought lawsuits challenging the mandate.”

The center also has filed two other suits against the mandate.

(UPDATE) Late Thursday, Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder -- a longstanding opponent of the ACA -- also praised the court's action.

“The 8th Circuit’s action on behalf of this Missouri business owner and his company is a victory for everyone who values religious freedom in this country," Kinder said in a statement. "The onerous contraception mandate forces business owners like O’Brien, who’s Catholic, to provide their employees with healthcare plans that include coverage for contraception methods that many consider a form of abortion. Religious freedom is one of many rights this law tramples, and I commend the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for sending a message that the government must respect the religious beliefs of employers.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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