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Area companies get injunction against feds’ birth-control rule

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Friday granted an injunction in favor of two Sidney-based companies and their owners, preventing the application of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ federal contraception mandate.

The mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act, was due to apply on Monday, when health plans for Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics of Sidney were to be renewed, said Edward White, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington D.C.-based anti-abortion legal organization.

The ACLJ in January filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of company owners Francis and Philip Gilardi. The lawsuit contends the mandate violates constitutional and statutory rights by requiring the Gilardi brothers to provide health coverage including birth control for their nearly 400 full-time workers.

The Gilardis have excluded coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs from their employee health plan for at least the last decade “to be in keeping with their Catholic faith,” White said.

The injunction allows the companies to continue to provide the current insurance and exclude contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs while the lawsuit proceeds through the courts, White said.

Failure to comply with the mandate would result in annual penalties of more than $14 million, he said.

“The decision comes down to do I follow my faith or do I allow my company to be destroyed, putting everyone out of work,” White said.

Freshway Foods, a fresh produce processing and packing company, serves 23 states and has 340 full-time employees. Freshway Logistics, a for-hire carrier that transports mainly refrigerated products, has about 55 full-time employees.

Freshway Foods trucks bear signs stating, “It’s not a choice, it’s a child,” as a way to promote the owners’ anti-abortion views to the public, according to the legal complaint.

The ACLJ’s legal brief on the Gilardi’s lawsuit is due at the end of April, with oral arguments scheduled for September, White said.

In early March, a trial court denied the ACLJ’s motion for a preliminary injunction on the Gilardis’ behalf. On March 21, an appellate court panel of three judges denied an emergency motion to stop the application of the mandate before April 1. Friday’s ruling was in response to an emergency request for the court to reconsider its ruling based on additional legal filings, White said.

The ACLJ has now won six injunctions against the mandate, also including two in Illinois and three in Missouri. The group has a total of seven lawsuits pending against the mandate, he said.

Nationally, there are more than 50 legal cases filed against the mandate, including about 20 on behalf of for-profit companies, with the rest involving nonprofits such as colleges

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