U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson dismissed a federal lawsuit challenging the HHS contraceptive mandate this week. Lawyers for Frank O’Brien, chairman of St. Louis-based O’Brien Industrial Holdings, promptly filed a notice of appeal, seeking review of the dismissal by the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The O’Brien lawsuit challenged the HHS mandate based upon the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Disappointingly, Judge Jackson ruled that being forced, under threat of payment of substantial fines, to pay for insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs did not constitute a substantial burden on Mr. O’Brien’s exercise of religion.
Mr. O’Brien’s lawsuit does not directly impact the passage of SB 749, the Missouri religious liberty bill finally passed last month. Judge Jackson’s ruling is only one step in what is expected to be an extended legal challenge to the HHS mandate by both private and religious employers. A federal district court judge in Colorado granted a preliminary injunction in July in favor of a Colorado company in a similar lawsuit challenging the HHS mandate. The U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately have to decide whether the HHS mandate is an infringement on the religious beliefs of private and religious employers.