2 Ohio firms play role in Supreme Court birth control ruling

Two Ohio companies were on the front line in a trail of legal challenges that resulted in this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning a mandate that required closely held companies to pay for contraceptives.

Companies in Sidney and Urbana, both owned by practicing Catholics, pursued suits against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which was the lead defendant in a number of ultimately successful challenges to the mandate.

“I think it’s fair to say that Ohio had its fair share of challenges to this,” said Robert Muise, an attorney for the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based American Freedom Law Center. “And that was important. Having all this momentum, all these challenges, don’t think that was lost on these courts.”

Eight months ago, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., overturned a lower court ruling and held that the owners of a Sidney company, Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics, should not be forced to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees. The company is owned by brothers, Frank and Phil Gilardi.

That November ruling in Gilardi v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services was seen as setting the stage for Monday’s 5-4 decision.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the contraceptive mandate “substantially burdens the religious exercise of the Gilardis, does not further a compelling government interest, and is not the least restrictive means of furthering that interest,” an American Bar Association summary said.

Ruling vindicates company

Muise represented Johnson Welding, an Urbana company that sued Health and Human Services, as well as the federal Treasury and Labor departments.

Muise’s client was Lilli Johnson, president and principal owner of Johnson Welding, and who is a Catholic mother of seven children. Muise said Johnson’s company was exactly the kind of private-employer the Supreme Court had in mind.

“That’s the definition of a closely held family-run business,” Muise said.

Francis Manion, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based American Center for Law and Justice, filed an amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby case, relying in part on his arguments for Freshway, which he also represented.

Manion believes the earlier ruling by the Court of Appeals in Washington, as well as the amicus brief, played a role in the Supreme Court’s decision — and he believes the Gilardis understand that.

“They’re satisfied that the position they took way when has been vindicated by the highest court in the land,” Manion said.

Bosses’ religion ‘trumps’ employees

Judy Waxman, vice president for health and reproductive rights at the Washington, D.C.-based National Woman’s Law Center, said Monday’s ruling — and other suits against federal health regulations pursued by non-profits — leaves women in a precarious place.

“That leaves women with the situation where their bosses’ religion trumps their religion,” Waxman said. “We all believe in religious freedom. But in this case, it’s only the boss’ religion that matters.”

Birth control is a “very basic health service for women, and for many women, it’s not cheap,” Waxman said. For basic monthly oral pills, the cost is about $50 a month, she said. Long-acting birth control, such as an IUD, could be more than $1,000 up front, she said.

“While it benefits men and woman, the cost (for birth control) usually falls on the woman,” she said. And she said most women use contraception. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 99 percent of women between ages 15 and 44 who have been sexually active have used at least one contraceptive method.

Impact limited

What the Supreme Court’s decision means for the business landscape depends on whom you ask.

Brad Smith, a professor at the Capital University School of Law in Columbus, said much of the reaction to the court’s decision has been “overwrought.” He said the decision is statutory, not constitutional, meaning Congress can change the law on coverage— in theory, at least. And the impact is limited, in his view.

“Any employer has to have an authentic religious belief, and then they have to show the government could accommodate it in some other way, that would not infringe on that belief,” Smith said. “So you’re not going to have a lot of people making these arguments.”

Margery Murphy, president of Kettering’s Acadia Lead Management Services, started her B2B sales and marketing services business from her kitchen table in the late 1990s. She’s about to hire her tenth employee.

She sees the fundamental issue behind the Supreme Court’s decision as one of religious freedom.

“It really isn’t a matter of women’s rights, but it’s a matter of religious freedom for privately held businesses,” Murphy said. “Thinking about the country, the foundation this country was built on, was on religious freedom, and I do believe the court’s decision upheld that right for privately held businesses.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in News

Former Children’s doctor indicted on sex charge
Former Children’s doctor indicted on sex charge

Dr. Arun Aggarwal, a former physician at Dayton Children’s Hospital, has been indicted on four counts of gross sexual imposition, according to court records. An arrest warrant has been issued for his arrest. He is set to be arraigned Aug. 31 in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck speaking now at a press...
Springfield police, deputies to up patrols looking for drunk drivers
Springfield police, deputies to up patrols looking for drunk drivers

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Springfield Police Division will begin extra patrols as part of the national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, starting Friday, Aug. 18, and lasting through Sept. 3. The campaign will focus on the enforcement of impaired motor vehicles, speeding violations and seat belt violations. Police officers...
‘I’ll never forget the sounds,’ says woman hit in Charlottesville car attack
‘I’ll never forget the sounds,’ says woman hit in Charlottesville car attack

On Tuesday night, Van Jones spoke to Constance -- a woman who survived being hit in the infamous car attack in Charlottesville -- during his “We Rise Against Hate” tour. As she moved onto the stage, still on crutches, she received continuous applause, and Jones asked the audience, “You ever met a hero? You ever seen a hero in real...
County settles lawsuit brought by pepper-sprayed inmate
County settles lawsuit brought by pepper-sprayed inmate

UPDATED@3:19 p.m.: The settlement in the Amber Swink civil lawsuit against Montgomery County was settled for $375,000, according to Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. EARLIER: A woman who was pepper sprayed by a corrections officer while strapped into a restraint chair at the Montgomery County jail has settled her lawsuit against the county...
CNN criticized for labeling white supremacist Richard Spencer a ‘white rights activist’ in headline
CNN criticized for labeling white supremacist Richard Spencer a ‘white rights activist’ in headline

A headline on the website cnn.com this morning called white nationalist Richard Spencer a ‘white rights activist’, wording that led to criticism across social media. Spencer, who has referred to himself as a “white supremacist,” was scheduled to speak at the University of Florida. The university cited safety concerns and canceled...
More Stories