The central question in a lawsuit is whether or not a “Christ-centered ministry” that offers parents a chance to "earn" baby supplies through bible study should receive a federal, taxpayer-funded loan to buy and renovate a building and expand services with an anti-choice agenda.
Should taxpayer funds be used to help a “Christ-centered ministry” buy and renovate a building in which it will offer Bible instruction and other services aimed at preventing abortion?
That’s the question at the center of a lawsuit filed by Care Net Pregnancy Center of Windham County, Vermont, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rejected the center’s application for a federal building loan.
Care Net is a self-described “pregnancy resource center” that works to prevent abortion by offering an array of services, including free pregnancy tests, parenting classes, and counseling. The USDA denied the group’s loan request due to the “inherently religious” nature of some of its programming.
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Care Net’s most troubling offering, as far as USDA officials were concerned, was a rewards-based learning program called “Learn to Earn,” wherein expectant parents had to take a certain number of parenting and Bible study classes in order to receive free baby supplies. (Care Net’s executive director has said the center has since suspended the Bible study requirement.) The center also offers, according to a brochure, a “bible centered program” called “Post Abortive Teaching and Healing” that “enables women to process their abortion-related experiences and emotions with the goal of healing and recovery.” In addition, Care Net conducts an abstinence-only sex-education class called “Why Am I Tempted?” or WAIT.
Backed by the Alliance Defending Freedom—an influential Christian conservative legal group—and a New Hampshire law firm, Care Net is arguing that the USDA’s actions violated the Fair Housing Act and its constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection under the law. In October, a federal judge ordered a USDA hearing officer to consider these arguments in deciding whether Care Net should get the loan.
Care Net’s attorneys hope the case will have a broader impact and will help lead to more religious groups being able to access government funding.
‘Learn to Earn’
Two years ago, Care Net requested financial assistance through the USDA’s Community Facilities Direct and Guaranteed Loans program, which makes and guarantees loans “to develop essential community facilities in rural areas and towns of up to 20,000 in population.” According to the USDA, “essential community facilities” include those that provide “health care, public safety, and public services.”
Two main issues led the USDA’s Rural Development department to deny the request.
One factor was that Care Net—which, as an affiliate of the national Care Net organization, must certify that its primary mission “is to share the truth and love of Jesus Christ in conjunction with a ministry to those facing pregnancy related issues”—intended to host Bible study and other religious classes in the facility that was to be purchased with the USDA loan.
A second, related issue was that Care Net’s “Learn to Earn” program appeared to be incentivizing religion by requiring that expectant parents take both Bible study classes and parenting classes in order to earn material rewards like baby clothes and furniture.
The USDA’s regulations prohibit its funding from being used for “inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization,” as well for activities where religious participation is not voluntary.
Organizations seeking to participate in the Community Facilities program must first go through a pre-application process so the USDA can determine applicants’ eligibility before they make substantial investments on the project.
In her December 2010 pre-application letter to the USDA, Care Net Executive Director Liz Chechile explained that after 25 years of renting in Brattleboro, her center wanted to purchase a local church’s parsonage but needed a loan of about $100,000 to help pay for renovations to bring the building up to code. According to court filings, Chechile had discussed with a USDA program specialist the possibility of her center having an emergency homeless shelter for pregnant women and new mothers if Care Net were able to acquire and renovate the building.
Chechile sent the USDA several documents about Learn to Earn, which she at one point described as “by far” Care Net’s most popular program. The material explained that if expectant parents attended 12 parenting classes and 12 Bible study classes in a 15-week period, they could earn “baby and mommy care necessities”—like baby clothes and baby furniture. If clients completed the required number of classes in the required time frame, they could choose one “large item” from a list. Clients could also choose a “medium item” if their partners attended all of the classes and a “small item” if they and their partners complete all of the homework. In one letter to the USDA, Chechile said that Care Net “sometimes” makes “slight adjustments” to the Learn to Earn requirements—for example, substituting “some extra Parenting Classes in for some of the Bible Study Classes.”
In a subsequent email to the USDA, Chechile said the Bible classes, on average, make up only about 10 percent of Care Net’s services.
The list of Care Net’s Learn to Earn course names are nearly identical to those offered by Earn While You Learn, a video-based parenting-education program offered at similar anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers across the country. The curriculum was developed by Dinah Monahan, a founder and director of a center in Arizona, and is distributed exclusively by the Christian Heritage House.
In promoting the program, the Earn While You Learn website says, “Giving things away free only enables our clients and fosters the entitlement mentality.” Instead, Earn While You Learn helps “break cycles of poor parenting, neglect and abuse” by teaching participants “how to be good parents” in exchange for “much needed items for their babies.” The website also explains how this program reaches “abortion-vulnerable” clients:
While many tactics rely on cold-contacts (billboards, phone book, etc), EWYL creates an environment where your services are promoted between friends. The young women in your EWYL classes have circles of friends that include those who are the most abortion vulnerable. When an unplanned pregnancy occurs, many times it is to the friends that women first go – and those friends can tell them about your center. Most centers using EWYL don’t just see a dramatic increase in visits for instruction — they also see a significant increase in abortion minded appointments.
According to Judge Reggie Walton’s October opinion, after the loan request was denied, a USDA representative asked Chechile if Care Net could offer the Bible-centered courses in a separate, non-federally funded facility, but Chechile said that would not be possible.
In June 2011, a month after being told that Care Net was found ineligible to participate in the Community Facility Loan Program, Chechile told the USDA “that Care Net changed the rules for the Learn to Earn program by not requiring Bible study classes, and by eliminating the rewards given to individuals who participated in such classes,” according to Walton’s opinion.
At an appeals hearing held a month later in Montpelier, USDA National Appeals Division hearing officer Bradley Blackburn repeatedly asked Care Net’s side—represented by two attorneys and two board members—if Learn to Earn participants have to attend Bible study if they want baby supplies.
Care Net board member Suzanne King said during that hearing that Care Net no longer requires Bible Study, but that they used to as “sort of an experiment.”
“For a period of time, probably a year… you had a choice of the regular classes and the Bible classes, and it was included to do the Bible classes to earn like a crib, something of that nature. You needed to take Bible classes,” King said. “That is something that is actually being reassessed, not because of this, but just because of wanting to make our services readily available to everybody.”
At one point, after Blackburn asked if Bible classes were in some way “required,” King responded:
Not really. I mean, that’s something that we’re actively—the last time I talked with [Chechile], we have talked about doing it both ways. They are available, but I don’t believe they are going to be required. There was a time that the Learn to Earn program, because we are donation-based, we had so many people coming our doors that — I mean, we provided maternity clothes, we provided diapers, baby clothes, as well as cribs, strollers. The women could pick out what they wanted, basically speaking—that it became overwhelming, and we financially could not continue to support that program to the extent that we had it. We are certainly hoping, once we have our own building, once we’re better established, that’s something that may be able to grow again.
Care Net attorney Michael Tierney told The American Independent in a phone conversation that that aspect of the Learn to Earn Bible study requirement was a misunderstanding and that Care Net has since “adopted an official policy to make sure there wasn’t any confusion about that.”
“Care Net of Windham County in Brattleboro does not give out baby items as rewards based on, you know, one’s participation in Bible study classes or parenting classes,” he said. “The baby items are given out to women who need them, who have babies who can use them.”
TAI asked Chechile about the current status of the program, but she chose not to answer any questions for this article, because, she said, the situation with the USDA has not yet been resolved.
Among those Care Net has served through Learn to Earn include parents in trouble with the law. Tierney told TAI that when parents in rural southeastern Vermont are involved in “abuse and neglect proceedings,” the state court sometimes gives parents the option to take parenting classes at Care Net. He said there are not many other parenting-class providers in this part of the state.
‘Excessive government entanglement with religion’
On the advice of its legal department, the USDA concluded that were the agency to engage in a long-term borrower-lender relationship with Care Net, there was a potential for “excessive government entanglement with religion,” which the Supreme Court has decided is a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
In a May 2011 memo, USDA Office of the General Counsel attorney adviser Virginia Henning wrote that though Care Net’s non-religious activities were eligible for financial assistance under the federal agency’s program rules, it would be difficult for the USDA to “accurately prorate the amount of time and space used in this facility for religious education” and would thus require “extensive monitoring” from the USDA to make sure the center was not engaging in too much religious activity.
Now, thanks to last month’s court order, the USDA Appeals Division must consider Care Net’s claim that the loan denial on the basis of the group’s religious activities violated Care Net’s constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection. In addition, the hearing officer will consider Care Net’s claim that the USDA violated the Fair Housing Act (this has to do with Care Net’s proposal to host an emergency shelter in the building it wants to acquire).
In a recent phone interview, Care Net attorney Michael Tierney told TAI that the USDA’s decision to deny Care Net the loan was “blatant religious discrimination.” He argued that the Supreme Court has determined on different occasions that people can engage in religious speech in publicly-funded places, such as public schools and libraries, without violating the Constitution.
“It’s quite surprising that USDA would say, ‘No, this is a USDA-partially-financed building with a government-backed loan; therefore, you can’t have discussion of anything religious,” Tierney said. “If you could do it in the elementary school and the high school and the college, the fact that USDA is offering a loan to Care Net doesn’t mean that Care Net loses its rights to engage in religious speech.”
Howard Friedman, a professor of law emeritus at the University of Toledo, who writes the church/state-issues blog Religion Clause, told TAI in an interview that Care Net’s case with the USDA is part of an ongoing question of how much religious activity can exist in government-funded buildings, a question that he said dates back to the dawn of President George W. Bush’s federally funded “faith-based initiatives.”
Though the general rule is that government money can’t be used to promote religion, Friedman said, the lack of clear guidelines is what often leads religious entities and government agencies to battle this out in court.
“I think this is one of those areas where you almost have to have some judgment about are they really using the money to promote religion or not, because it’s one of those places where once you draw a line, people will look really hard for ways to evade, to comply technically but evade the spirit of the rule,” Friedman said.
“Here you did have the Department of Agriculture trying to draw a clear rule,” he continued. “They were trying to make it more like the tax code so that the people administrating the program would know how to administer it. And the court said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine, and the department follows that rule, but then the question is, did that rule go too far and amount to discrimination against a religious group?”
Tierney said he hopes the case will help pave the way for more religious organizations to receive government funding.
“I think there needs to be an increased awareness of the fact that the establishment clause isn’t about denying people of faith the opportunity to participate in government programs on the same basis as areligious people,” he said. “And we see this happen in all sorts of programs across the country, and many times small religious organizations don’t have the resources or the ability to fight the long legal fight; they just give up and realize that they are on an unequal footing. And hopefully our winning this case will cause other religious organizations throughout the country not to be discriminated against on the basis of religious speech. That’s what our goal here is.”
Donald Trump's running mate has said that "life is winning in Indiana"—and the biggest winner is probably a chain of crisis pregnancy centers that landed a $3.5 million contract in funds originally intended for poor Hoosiers.
Much has been made of Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s record on LGBTQ issues. In 2000, when he was running for U.S. representative, Pence wrote that “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ [sic] entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” He also said that funds meant to help people living with HIV or AIDS should no longer be given to organizations that provide HIV prevention services because they “celebrate and encourage” homosexual activity. Instead, he proposed redirecting those funds to anti-LGBTQ “conversion therapy” programs, which have been widely discredited by the medical community as being ineffective and dangerous.
Under Pence, ideology has replaced evidence in many areas of public life. In fact, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has just hired a running mate who, in the past year, has reallocated millions of dollars in public funds intended to provide food and health care for needy families to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.
Gov. Pence, who declined multiple requests for an interview with Rewire, has been outspoken about his anti-choice agenda. Currently, Indiana law requires people seeking abortions to receive in-person “counseling” and written information from a physician or other health-care provider 18 hours before the abortion begins. And thanks, in part, to other restrictive laws making it more difficult for clinics to operate, there are currently six abortion providers in Indiana, and none in the northern part of the state. Only four of Indiana’s 92 counties have an abortion provider. All this means that many people in need of abortion care are forced to take significant time off work, arrange child care, and possibly pay for a place to stay overnight in order to obtain it.
This environment is why a contract quietly signed by Pence last fall with the crisis pregnancy center umbrella organization Real Alternatives is so potentially dangerous for Indiana residents seeking abortion: State-subsidized crisis pregnancy centers not only don’t provide abortion but seek to persuade people out of seeking abortion, thus limiting their options.
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“Indiana is committed to the health, safety, and wellbeing [sic] of Hoosier families, women, and children,” reads the first line of the contract between the Indiana State Department of Health and Real Alternatives. The contract, which began on October 1, 2015, allocates $3.5 million over the course of a year for Real Alternatives to use to fund crisis pregnancy centers throughout the state.
Where Funding Comes From
The money for the Real Alternatives contract comes from Indiana’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, a federally funded, state-run program meant to support the most vulnerable households with children. The program was created by the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act signed by former President Bill Clinton. It changed welfare from a federal program that gave money directly to needy families to one that gave money, and a lot of flexibility with how to use it, to the states.
This TANF block grant is supposed to provide low-income families a monthly cash stipend that can be used for rent, child care, and food. But states have wide discretion over these funds: In general, they must use the money to serve families with children, but they can also fund programs meant, for example, to promote marriage. They can also make changes to the requirements for fund eligibility.
As of 2012, to be eligible for cash assistance in Indiana, a household’s maximum monthly earnings could not exceed $377, the fourth-lowest level of qualification of all 50 states, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Indiana’s program also has some of the lowest maximum payouts to recipients in the country.
Part of this is due to a 2011 work requirement that stripped eligibility from many families. Under the new work requirement, a parent or caretaker receiving assistance needs to be “engaged in work once the State determines the parent or caretaker is ready to engage in work,” or after 24 months of receiving benefits. The maximum time allowed federally for a family to receive assistance is 60 months.
“There was a TANF policy change effective November 2011 that required an up-front job search to be completed at the point of application before we would proceed in authorizing TANF benefits,” Jim Gavin, a spokesman for the state’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), told Rewire. “Most [applicants] did not complete the required job search and thus applications were denied.”
Unspent money from the block grant can be carried over to following years. Indiana receives an annual block grant of $206,799,109, but the state hasn’t been using all of it thanks to those low payouts and strict eligibility requirements. The budget for the Real Alternatives contract comes from these carry-over funds.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF is explicitly meant to clothe and feed children, or to create programs that help prevent “non-marital childbearing,” and Indiana’s contract with Real Alternatives does neither. The contract stipulates that Real Alternatives and its subcontractors must “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The funds, the contract says, cannot be used for organizations that will refer clients to abortion providers or promote contraceptives as a way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
Parties involved in the contract defended it to Rewire by saying they provide material goods to expecting and new parents, but Rewire obtained documents that showed a much different reality.
Real Alternatives is an anti-choice organization run by Kevin Bagatta, a Pennsylvania lawyer who has no known professional experience with medical or mental health services. It helps open, finance, and refer clients to crisis pregnancy centers. The program started in Pennsylvania, where it received a $30 million, five-year grant to support a network of 40 subcontracting crisis pregnancy centers. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale called for an audit of the organization between June 2012 and June 2015 after hearing reports of mismanaged funds, and found $485,000 in inappropriate billing. According to the audit, Real Alternatives would not permit DHS to review how the organization used those funds. However, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettereported in April that at least some of the money appears to have been designated for programs outside the state.
Real Alternatives also received an $800,000 contract in Michigan, which inspired Gov. Pence to fund a $1 million yearlong pilot program in northern Indiana in the fall of 2014.
“The widespread success [of the pilot program] and large demand for these services led to the statewide expansion of the program,” reads the current $3.5 million contract. It is unclear what measures the state used to define “success.”
“Every Other Baby … Starts With Women’s Care Center”
Real Alternatives has 18 subcontracting centers in Indiana; 15 of them are owned by Women’s Care Center, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers. According to its website, Women’s Care Center serves 25,000 women annually in 23 centers throughout Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Women’s Care Centers in Indiana received 18 percent of their operating budget from state’s Real Alternatives program during the pilot year, October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015, which were mostly reimbursements for counseling and classes throughout pregnancy, rather than goods and services for new parents.
In fact, instead of the dispensation of diapers and food, “the primary purpose of the [Real Alternatives] program is to provide core services consisting of information, sharing education, and counseling that promotes childbirth and assists pregnant women in their decision regarding adoption or parenting,” the most recent contract reads.
The program’s reimbursement system prioritizes these anti-choice classes and counseling sessions: The more they bill for, the more likely they are to get more funding and thus open more clinics.
“This performance driven [sic] reimbursement system rewards vendor service providers who take their program reimbursement and reinvest in their services by opening more centers and hiring more counselors to serve more women in need,” reads the contract.
Classes, which are billed as chastity classes, parenting classes, pregnancy classes, and childbirth classes, are reimbursed at $21.80 per client. Meanwhile, as per the most recent contract, counseling sessions, which are separate from the classes, are reimbursed by the state at minimum rates of $1.09 per minute.
Jenny Hunsberger, vice president of Women’s Care Center, told Rewire that half of all pregnant women in Elkhart, LaPorte, Marshall, and St. Joseph Counties, and one in four pregnant women in Allen County, are clients of their centers. To receive any material goods, such as diapers, food, and clothing, she said, all clients must receive this counseling, at no cost to them. Such counseling is billed by the minute for reimbursement.
“When every other baby born [in those counties] starts with Women’s Care Center, that’s a lot of minutes,” Hunsberger told Rewire.
Rewire was unable to verify exactly what is said in those counseling sessions, except that they are meant to encourage clients to carry their pregnancies to term and to help them decide between adoption or child rearing, according to Hunsberger. As mandated by the contract, both counseling and classes must “provide abstinence education as the best and only method of avoiding unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.”
In the first quarter of the new contract alone, Women’s Care Center billed Real Alternatives and, in turn, the state, $239,290.97; about $150,000 of that was for counseling, according to documents obtained by Rewire. In contrast, goods like food, diapers, and other essentials for new parents made up only about 18.5 percent of Women’s Care Center’s first-quarter reimbursements.
Despite the fact that the state is paying for counseling at Women’s Care Center, Rewire was unable to find any licensing for counselors affiliated with the centers. Hunsberger told Rewire that counseling assistants and counselors complete a minimum training of 200 hours overseen by a master’s level counselor, but the counselors and assistants do not all have social work or psychology degrees. Hunsberger wrote in an email to Rewire that “a typical Women’s Care Center is staffed with one or more highly skilled counselors, MSW or equivalent.”
Rewire followed up for more information regarding what “typical” or “equivalent” meant, but Hunsberger declined to answer. A search for licenses for the known counselors at Women’s Care Center’s Indiana locations turned up nothing. The Indiana State Department of Health told Rewire that it does not monitor or regulate the staff at Real Alternatives’ subcontractors, and both Women’s Care Center and Real Alternatives were uncooperative when asked for more information regarding their counseling staff and training.
Bethany Christian Services and Heartline Pregnancy Center, Real Alternatives’ other Indiana subcontractors, billed the program $380.41 and $404.39 respectively in the first quarter. They billed only for counseling sessions, and not goods or classes.
“We don’t provide medical services. We provide human services,” Bagatta told the City Paper.
There are pregnancy centers in Indiana that provide a full range of referrals for reproductive health care, including for STI testing and abortion. However, they are not eligible for reimbursement under the Real Alternatives contract because they do not maintain an anti-choice mission.
Parker Dockray is the executive director of Backline, an all-options pregnancy resource center. She told Rewire that Backline serves hundreds of Indiana residents each month, and is overwhelmed by demand for diapers and other goods, but it is ineligible for the funding because it will refer women to abortion providers if they choose not to carry a pregnancy to term.
“At a time when so many Hoosier families are struggling to make ends meet, it is irresponsible for the state to divert funds intended to support low-income women and children and give it to organizations that provide biased pregnancy counseling,” Dockray told Rewire. “We wish that Indiana would use this funding to truly support families by providing job training, child care, and other safety net services, rather than using it to promote an anti-abortion agenda.”
“Life Is Winning in Indiana”
Time and again, Bagatta and Hunsberger stressed to Rewire that their organizations do not employ deceitful tactics to get women in the door and to convince them not to have abortions. However, multiple studies have proven that crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women from the moment they search online for an abortion provider through the end of their appointments inside the center.
These studies have also shown that publicly funded crisis pregnancy centers dispense medically inaccurate information to clients. In addition to spreading lies like abortion causing infertility or breast cancer, they are known to give false hopes of miscarriages to people who are pregnant and don’t want to be. A 2015 report by NARAL Pro-Choice America found this practice to be ubiquitous in centers throughout the United States, and Rewire found that Women’s Care Center is no exception. The organization’s website says that as many as 40 percent of pregnancies end in natural miscarriage. While early pregnancy loss is common, it occurs in about 10 percent of known pregnancies, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Crisis pregnancy centers also tend to crop up next to abortion clinics with flashy, deceitful signs that lead many to mistakenly walk into the wrong building. Once inside, clients are encouraged not to have an abortion.
A Google search for “abortion” and “Indianapolis” turns up an ad for the Women’s Care Center as the first result. It reads: “Abortion – Indianapolis – Free Ultrasound before Abortion. Located on 86th and Georgetown. We’re Here to Help – Call Us Today: Abortion, Ultrasound, Locations, Pregnancy.”
Hunsberger denies any deceit on the part of Women’s Care Center.
“Clients who walk in the wrong door are informed that we are not the abortion clinic and that we do not provide abortions,” Hunsberger told Rewire. “Often a woman will choose to stay or return because we provide services that she feels will help her make the best decision for her, including free medical-grade pregnancy tests and ultrasounds which help determine viability and gestational age.”
Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky told Rewire that since Women’s Care Center opened on 86th and Georgetown in Indianapolis, many patients looking for its Georgetown Health Center have walked through the “wrong door.”
“We have had patients miss appointments because they went into their building and were kept there so long they missed their scheduled time,” Judi Morrison, vice president of marketing and education, told Rewire.
Sarah Bardol, director of Women’s Care Center’s Indianapolis clinic, told the Criterion Online Edition, a publication of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, that the first day the center was open, a woman and her boyfriend did walk into the “wrong door” hoping to have an abortion.
“The staff of the new Women’s Care Center in Indianapolis, located just yards from the largest abortion provider in the state, hopes for many such ‘wrong-door’ incidents as they seek to help women choose life for their unborn babies,” reported the Criterion Online Edition.
If they submit to counseling, Hoosiers who walk into the “wrong door” and “choose life” can receive up to about $40 in goods over the course their pregnancy and the first year of that child’s life. Perhaps several years ago they may have been eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but now with the work requirement, they may not qualify.
In a February 2016 interview with National Right to Life, one of the nation’s most prominent anti-choice groups, Gov. Pence said, “Life is winning in Indiana.” Though Pence was referring to the Real Alternatives contract, and the wave of anti-choice legislation sweeping through the state, it’s not clear what “life is winning” actually means. The state’s opioid epidemic claimed 1,172 lives in 2014, a statistically significant increase from the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV infections have spread dramatically throughout the state, in part because of Pence’s unwillingness to support medically sound prevention practices. Indiana’s infant mortality rate is above the national average, and infant mortality among Black babies is even higher. And Pence has reduced access to prevention services such as those offered by Planned Parenthood through budget cuts and unnecessary regulations—while increasing spending on anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.
Gov. Pence’s track record shows that these policies are no mistake. The medical and financial needs of his most vulnerable constituents have taken a backseat to religious ideology throughout his time in office. He has literally reallocated money for poor Hoosiers to fund anti-choice organizations. In his tenure as both a congressman and a governor, he’s proven that whether on a national or state level, he’s willing to put “pro-life” over quality-of-life for his constituents.
Eighteen for-profit companies have filed lawsuits to overturn the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act, which requires that all insurance policies cover birth control without a co-pay as part of preventive care. These companies argue that including insurance coverage for birth control "violates their religious freedom." Here's a brief introduction to those companies and their cases.
Eighteen for-profit companies have filed lawsuits to avoid complying with the the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires that all insurance policies cover birth control without a co-pay as part of preventive care. Often misleadingly characterized as mandating “free birth control,” the ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare, requires that all insurance policies cover all forms of basic preventive care without a co-pay, including well-woman, well-baby, and well-child visits, as well as other basic prevention care for men and women. This coverage is intended to save costs and promote public health.
Basic preventive reproductive and sexual health-care services, including contraception, are therefore also covered without a co-pay; as part of the mandate, all insurance plans must provide coverage without a co-pay for all methods of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Employees earn their salaries and their benefits, and many pay for all or a portion of their health-care premiums out of their salaries. As such, none of this coverage is “free,” but is rather covered by the policies they are earning or for which they are paying.
Nonetheless, the 18 companies that have sued to overturn the birth control benefit are doing so based on several misleading claims. One is that providing insurance policies that cover birth control violates the “religious freedom” of the companies’ owners. It is difficult to see how a critical public health intervention accessed through an employee’s health plan violates the religious freedom of the owner of the company. In fact, the reverse seems to be true; not allowing an employee to access coverage he or she has earned would appear to violate the employee’s freedoms, first and foremost.
The owners of these companies share the belief that a woman is pregnant as soon as there is a fertilized egg (the medical definition of pregnancy is successful implantation of an embryo in the uterine wall) and that a fertilized egg has the same rights as a born person. They also claim that the ACA forces them to cover “abortifacients,” with most pointing to emergency contraception methods such as Plan B to make their case. Emergency contraception, however, is just that: Contraception. It prevents ovulation, and therefore fertilization, and does not work after an egg has been fertilized.
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These lawsuits, now in various phases of litigation, are posing a critical challenge not only to the Affordable Care Act, but ultimately to the ability of all people to make the most profoundly personal decisions about whether, when, and under what circumstances to have a child and build a family.
Below is a list of these companies and the status of their cases. And Planned Parenthood Federation of America has launched a campaign enabling you to tell these companies what you think.
1. Tyndale House
Summary: An Illinois publishing company focusing on Christian books (and Bibles). The founder’s argument is that he shouldn’t have to provide his 260 employees with contraceptives he equates with abortion.
Status: U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton of the district court granted a preliminary injunction.
Tyndale House President and Chief Executive Mark D. Taylor.
President and Chief Executive: Mark D. Taylor
Taylor sees ACA birth control mandate as a test of God’s law vs. Man’s law. “I’ve always thought—in a theoretical way—that I might someday face a situation where the government was asking or telling me to do something that was counter to God’s law as I understood it. If such a situation arose, I hoped I would have the backbone to stand tall and disobey the government mandate. Well, that day seems to have come.” (World Magazine; October 2012)
Taylor equates Plan B and intrauterine devices (IUDs) with abortions because they prevent implantation. “As a Protestant, I don’t have a moral objection to contraceptives per se. But [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)] defines contraception to include abortifacients such as Plan B (the morning-after pill), Ella (the week-after pill), and intrauterine devices. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admits that one purpose of these drugs and devices is to keep the fertilized egg from “implantation” onto the wall of the uterus. In other words, their purpose is to cause an early abortion of a human being that is made in the image of God.” (World Magazine; October 2012)
Taylor feels he has biblical confirmation that his lawsuit is protecting the word of God. “The day after we filed the lawsuit, the daily reading from The One Year Bible included the first chapter of Jeremiah and these verses:
The LORD gave me this message: ‘I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations’ (Jeremiah 1:4-5, NLT).
How’s that for biblical confirmation that the unborn baby is important in the eyes of God! After reading that passage, I felt confirmed in my responsibility to stand up against a government that is trampling on my religious liberty. May God be merciful to all of us.” (World Magazine; October 2012)
2. Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics
Summary: The produce processing and packing companies are Ohio-based but serve 23 states and employ about 400 people. “The government is requiring them to enter into a contract and to pay for things that they find morally objectionable, and they just want to be able to continue what they’ve been doing,” one of their lawyers argued. They’ve excluded contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs from their company health insurance for the past decade. Co-founders are two Catholic brothers.
The produce processing and packing companies are Ohio-based but serve 23 states and employ about 400 people.
Status:Complaint filed. In response to plaintiffs’ contention that their case is sufficiently related to the Tyndale case, the district court ordered plaintiffs to demonstrate as much by February 8.
Co-founder and CEO: Frank Gilardi
Co-founder and President: Phil Gilardi
“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 [a] legal complaint.” (Journal News; January 2013)
Freshway Foods has deliberately excluded contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs from its company health coverage for 10 years. “’Our clients believe that having to pay for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization will cause them to violate their religious beliefs and moral values,’ said Edward White, Senior Counsel of the [American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)]. ‘They have specifically excluded such things from their company’s health insurance plan for the past ten years. The HHS mandate, however, will require them to pay for such drugs and services on April 1st. They have filed this lawsuit seeking an injunction against the mandate so they can continue to run their business in accordance with their religious beliefs and moral values.’” (ACLJ; January 2013)
3. Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation
Summary: A Pennsylvania-based wood cabinet and specialty products manufacturer run by Mennonites who think some birth-control products such as Plan B are “sinful and immoral” and “an intrinsic evil and a sin against God.” The company employs 950 people.
Status: The court dismissed a motion for preliminary injunction, but the plaintiffs appealed to the Third Circuit last month.
Owners: Norman Hahn, Elizabeth Hahn, Norman Lamar Hahn, Anthony N. Hahn, and Kevin Hahn
The owners argue they are acting in accordance with their faith by not covering contraception, and being forced to cover it is “un-American.” “‘People of faith should not be punished for making decisions according to the deepest convictions of that faith,’ said Attorney Charles W. Proctor, III, who is representing the Hahn family. ‘When government grows so invasive to force persons to violate their conscience, government is out of control and clearly outside the bounds of our Constitutions’ Bill of Rights .… The Health and Human Services abortion pill mandate would unconstitutionally force the Hahn family, owners and operators of Conestoga Wood Specialties, to do something offensive to their conscience—under threat of onerously large fines and penalties,’ he continued. ‘This is un-American.’” (Christian News; December 2012)
They argue that Plan B is equivalent to an abortion, and call it “intrinsic evil.” “‘The Mennonite Church teaches that taking of life, which includes anything that terminates a fertilized embryo, is intrinsic evil, and a sin against God to which they are held accountable,’ said the lawsuit brought by Norman Hahn, Norman Lemar Hahn and Anthony H. Hahn. Both abortion and any abortifacient contraception that may cause an abortion are ‘equally objectionable,’ they said.” (Washington Times; December 2012)
They have said mandating that they offer contraception is “sinful and immoral.” “Conestoga Wood in December had sued the U.S. Secretaries of Labor, Health and Human Services and the Treasury, alleging it would be ‘sinful and immoral’ to make the company comply with the law by paying for or supporting certain forms of contraception.” (Lancaster Online; January 2013)
4. Hercules Industries, Inc.
Summary: A Colorado corporation that manufactures heating, ventilation, and air conditioning products and employs 303 staffers.
James Newland, Paul Newland, William Newland, Andrew Newland
Founders and Owners: James Newland, Paul Newland, William Newland, and Andrew Newland
Number of children: The Newlands are five sibling-owners of Hercules Industries. The number of children they each have is unknown.
Hercules is a for-profit, secular employer, but is incorporating Catholicism into its “corporate culture.” “Although Hercules is a for-profit, secular employer, the Newlands [founders] adhere to the Catholic denomination of the Christian faith. According to the Newlands, ‘they seek to run Hercules in a manner that reflects their sincerely held religious beliefs.’ Thus, for the past year and a half the Newlands have implemented within Hercules a program designed to build their corporate culture based on Catholic principles.” (Court files; July 2012)
Hercules Industries’ previous health insurance plan intentionally left out contraceptive coverage because of the Newlands’ Catholic beliefs. “According to Plaintiffs, Hercules maintains a self-insured group plan for its employees ‘[a]s part of fulfilling their organizational mission and Catholic beliefs and commitments.’ Significantly, because the Catholic Church condemns the use of contraception, Hercules self-insured plan does not cover abortifacent drugs, contraception, or sterilization.” (Court files; July 2012)
Ironically, Hercules Industries was going to be awarded a Good Citizenship Award for a number of features, including its health-care coverage. The award was taken away when the company won its court injunction. “Hercules Industries, a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning manufacturer that employs 300 workers and has been in business in the Mile-High City for 50 years, was to be honored with a ‘Good Citizenship Award.’ The laurel was in recognition of contributions to the community, including the historic restoration of company headquarters and, ironically, its ‘generous employee health care coverage.’” (Fox News; August 2012)
5. Hobby Lobby
Summary: A national craft supply chain based in Oklahoma City that employs over 13,000 people across the country.
Status: The district court denied the preliminary injunction, but Hobby Lobby appealed to the Tenth Circuit, which denied separate injunctive relief but has not yet decided whether to grant the preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court for the separate relief, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Founder: David Green
Green argues that his religious beliefs support his thousands of employees and their families. “’Our family is now being forced to choose … between following the laws of the land that we love or maintaining the religious beliefs that have made our business successful and supported our family and thousands of our employees and their families,’ Green said … during a conference call. ‘We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.'” (The Oklahoman; September 2012)
Green says the foundation of his business is “honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with biblical principles.” “‘The foundation of our business has been, and will continue to be strong values, and honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with biblical principles,’ a statement on the Hobby Lobby website reads, adding that one outgrowth of that is the store is closed on Sundays to give its employees a day of rest.” (CNN; January 2013)
6. Sioux Chief Manufacturing
Summary: A Missouri plumbing products company that employs 370 people.
Status: Complaint filed.
CEO: Joe Ismert
The Ismert family alleges that the contraception mandate interferes with their desire to embody the moral teachings of the Catholic Church in their business. “‘The Mandate illegally and unconstitutionally coerces Plaintiffs to violate their sincerely held Catholic beliefs under threat of heavy fines and penalties,’ reads the suit in part. ‘The Mandate also forces Plaintiffs to fund government-dictated speech that is directly at odds with the religious ethics derived from their deeply held religious beliefs and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church that they strive to embody in their business.'” (Christian Post; January 2013)
The Ismerts’ lawyer has called the contraception mandate “unprecedented, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.” “‘Americans should be free to honor God and live according to their consciences wherever they are,’ said [lawyer Jonathan R.] Whitehead. ‘They have the God-given freedom to live and transact business according to their faith, and the First Amendment has always protected that. Forcing Americans to ignore their faith just to earn a living is unprecedented, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.'” (Christian Post; January 2013)
7. Domino’s Farms
Summary: The Michigan-based property management company owned by Tom Monaghan, the same man who founded Domino’s Pizza. Forty-five full-time and 44 part-time employees work there.
Status: The district court granted a temporary restraining order. Court heard motion preliminary injunction on January 31.
Owner: Tom Monaghan
Monaghan’s case refers to contraception as “a grave sin” and likens Plan B to abortion. “The lawsuit, filed in federal court, claims that the new law ‘attacks and desecrates a foremost tenet of the Catholic Church,’ which considers contraception ‘a grave sin.’ It adds that the mandate compels insurance issuers to cover the morning-after pill, ‘despite their known abortifacient mechanisms of action.’” (AOL; December 2012)
Before the ACA rule, Monaghan specifically crafted an insurance plan that did not include contraceptives or sterilization. “Before Obamacare, however, Monaghan had been able to ‘engineer’ an insurance policy through Blue Cross and Blue Shield that had exemptions for contraceptives and sterilization, according to [Thomas More Law Center President and Chief Counsel Richard] Thompson.” (AOL; December 2012)
Monaghan once countered the idea that contraceptive coverage extends equal opportunity to women in the workforce by citing that his lead counsel, Erin Mersino, won their case’s first victory while more than seven months pregnant. “‘The federal government says we need this law so that women have an equal opportunity in the workforce, so they can choose if and when they have children,’ said Thompson. But Mersino managed that legal victory, he points out, while seven-and-a-half months pregnant.” (AOL; December 2012)
8. Autocam Corporation
Summary: A West-Michigan-based company that makes parts for transportation and medical equipment and employs 680 people across the United States. CEO John Kennedy and family are Catholic.
Status: The district court denied preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs appealed to the Sixth Circuit, which denied injunction and motion to reconsider.
CEO: John Kennedy
Kennedy made this video in association with CatholicVote.org to explain his opposition to the ACA mandate. In it, he likens Plan B and IUDs to abortion. “The Affordable Care Act forces me to pay for things that violate my deeply held beliefs, such as abortion-inducing drugs, and makes it difficult for us to offer these great benefits to our associates. I can’t in good conscience choose between violating my beliefs and meeting my associates’ needs,” he says in the video.
Again, Kennedy has likened Plan B and IUDs to abortion. “‘Why is the Obama administration prioritizing life- ending drugs over lifesaving drugs?’ said Kennedy, who filed the lawsuit with the support of the Catholic Vote Legal Defense Fund and the Thomas More Society of Chicago.” (MLive.com; October 2012)
9. O’Brien Industrial Holdings
Summary: A Missouri company that processes ceramic materials and employs 87 people.
Status: After the district court granted motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs appealed to the Eighth Circuit. Last November, the Eighth Circuit issued a stay pending the appeal, over the dissent of one judge.
Frank R. O’Brien.
Owner: Frank R. O’Brien
The company website says, “Our conduct is guided by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. We will not discriminate based on anyone’s personal belief system.” “Mission: Our mission is to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society …. Integrity: Our conduct is guided by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. We will not discriminate based on anyone’s personal belief system …. People: We are an organization that will attract and keep outstanding personnel. Mean spirited behavior will not be tolerated.” (O’Brien Industrial Holdings)
O’Brien’s lawyer has argued that businesses should be governed by moral values, not government. “‘We have argued from the beginning that employers like Frank O’Brien must be able to operate their business in a manner consistent with their moral values, not the values of the government,'” said attorney Francis Manion. (Associated Press; November 2012)
10. American Pulverizer Company
Summary: Owned by founders Paul and Henry Griesedieck, who have controlling interest in four Missouri-based companies involved in the business of wholesale scrap metal recycling. Their companies employ about 150 people.
Status: The district court granted a preliminary injunction in part because of the O’Brien stay precedent.
Paul and Henry Griesedieck.
Founders: Paul and Henry Griesedieck
The Griesediecks have argued that “it would be sinful for us to pay for services that have a significant risk of causing the death of embryonic lives.” “In their lawsuit, the Griesediecks contend that compliance with the Obamacare mandate would force them to violate their religious and moral beliefs. In their lawsuit, the Griesediecks state that ‘it would be sinful for us to pay for services that have a significant risk of causing the death of embryonic lives.’” (Life News; January 2013)
The Griesedieck brothers have likened Plan B to abortion. “The owners, who are Evangelical Christians, contend that the HHS mandate requiring coverage for abortion-inducing drugs—including the ‘morning-after pill’—violates their religious beliefs.” (ACLJ; October 2012)
11. Sharpe Holdings, Inc.
Summary: A Missouri corporation that is involved in the farming, dairy, creamery, and cheese-making industries and employs at least 100 people.
Charles N. Sharpe.
Status: The district court granted a temporary restraining order that’s in effect until the court rules on further injunctive relief.
Founder and CEO: Charles N. Sharpe
Sharpe has likened Plan B and IUDs to abortion. “Rather, the focus of their claims for injunctive relief is the ability of these devices to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the wall of the uterus, thereby leading to the ejection of the fertilized egg from the woman’s body, in other words, the abortion of the live fetus.” (Court files; December 2012)
Sharpe believes that Plan B and IUDs are “abortion on demand.” “In accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs and practices, the individual plaintiffs oppose the use, funding, provision, or support of abortion on demand and believe that the use of Plan B, Ella, and copper IUDs constitutes abortion on demand.” (Court files; December 2012)
12. Annex Medical, Inc.
Summary: Plaintiffs Stuart Lind and Thomas Janas are Minnesota business owners, the former of whom owns and operates Annex Medical and Sacred Heart Medical, companies that design, manufacture, and sell medical devices and employ 16 full-time and two part-time workers. Janas is an entrepreneur who has owned several dairy businesses in the past and intends to purchase another in 2013. He currently operates Habile Holdings and Venture North Properties, companies that lease commercial properties but currently have no employees.
Annex Medical and Sacred Heart Medical, companies that design, manufacture, and sell medical devices and employ 16 full-time and two part-time workers
Status: The district court denied preliminary injunction, but the plaintiffs appealed to the Eighth Circuit in January and got an injunction pending appeal, relying on the O’Brien order.
Owners: Stuart Lind and Thomas Janas
Lind and Janas believe insurance plans covering contraception are “sinful” and “immoral.” “Lind and Janas believe that paying for a group health insurance plan that complies with Defendants’ Mandate is sinful and immoral because it requires them and/or the businesses they control to pay for contraception, sterilization, abortifacient drugs and related education and counseling in violation of their sincere and deeply-held religious beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church.” (Court files; November 2012)
Lind and Janas believe that any action intended to prevent procreation is forbidden, whether before, during, or after intercourse. “Plaintiffs Stuart Lind and Tom Janas are devout Catholics who are steadfastly committed to biblical principles and the teachings of the Catholic Church, including the belief that life involves the creative action of God, and is therefore sacred. Lind and Janas therefore believe that any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation is an evil forbidden by God.” (Court files; November 2012)
Lind and Janas have likened Plan B to abortion. “Among the products the Mandate requires Plaintiffs’ group plans to fund are Plan B (the ‘morning after pill’) and Ella (the ‘week after pill’), drugs that are designed to destroy early human life shortly after conception.” (Court files; November 2012)
13. Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, Inc.
Summary: An Illinois-based full-service construction contractor that employs about 90 workers. The Kortes “are adherents of the Catholic faith” and “wish to conduct business in a manner that does not violate their religious faith,” according to the suit.
Status: The district court denied preliminary injunction, but the plaintiffs appealed to the Seventh Circuit, which issued an order granting the emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal over the strong dissent of one judge.
Cyril “Pete” Korte.
Owners: Cyril “Pete” Korte and Jane Korte
President: Cyril “Pete” Korte
Secretary: Jane Korte
The majority of the company’s employees choose to take coverage from their unions, rather than the company. “They employ about 90 full-time employees, about 70 of whom belong to and receive health insurance coverage from unions. The other 20 non-union employees receive coverage under a group plan provided by the Kortes’ company, according to their complaint.” (Madison-St. Clair Record; October 2012)
The Kortes take issue with Plan B, likening it to abortion. “Complying with the mandate would require the Kortes to violate their religious beliefs because it requires them to pay for, provide or otherwise support contraception, sterilization and abortion, the suit states, specifically noting the ‘morning-after pill.’” (Madison-St. Clair Record; October 2012)
14. Triune Health Group
Summary: A secular Illinois corporation that specializes in facilitating the re-entry of injured workers into the workforce. The health group employs 95 people.
Status: The district court granted a preliminary injunction.
Christopher and Mary Anne Yep.
Founders: Christopher and Mary Anne Yep
The Yeps have likened Plan B to abortion. “The Yeps embrace a belief which is embedded in Triune’s mission statement that each individual be ‘treated with the human dignity and respect that God intended.’ They say the Obamacare contraceptive mandate, administered by HHS and the other federal agencies named in the lawsuit, as well as the Illinois insurance contraceptive mandate, administered by Illinois’ Department of Insurance, require the Triune to provide and pay for abortion-related and contraceptive coverage for its employees and their families.” (Life News; January 2013)
The Yeps have said that the contraceptive mandate imposes a “gravely oppressive burden” on their religious beliefs. “‘The federal and state governments are coercing our clients to violate their conscientious convictions in a fashion that is completely at odds with the resounding declarations of our Founding Fathers and our modern Supreme Court jurisprudence,’ said Samuel B. Casey, Managing Director and General Counsel for the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project.” (Life News; January 2013)
Ironically, Triune Health Group was recently awarded “Best Workplace for Women” by Crain’s Chicago Business. “In Crain’s survey, Triune employees said it’s not the company’s written policies or benefits that stand out—in fact, some even expressed a desire for more than three weeks’ vacation. But workers seemed to value the flexible approach that management takes with each employee’s needs. For years, the company has posted a 95 percent employee retention rate. Most employees work out of their homes and are given flex-time, part-time and telecommuting options.” (Crain’s Chicago Business; May 2012)
15. Grote Industries
Summary: An Indiana-based privately held manufacturer of vehicle safety systems. The family-owned company has 1,448 full-time employees. The Grote family is Roman Catholic.
William “Bill” Grote.
Status: The district court denied a preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs appealed to the Seventh Circuit, which consolidated the case with Korte (#8) and granted Grote Industries a temporary injunction pending appeal, over the strong dissent of one judge.
Owner: William “Bill” Grote
Before the ACA, Grote Industries did not offer contraception in its company health insurance plan, citing the family’s Catholic beliefs. “The [Grotes] are Catholic and claim to operate their business according to the ‘precepts of their faith.’ This includes adhering to the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding ‘the moral wrongfulness of abortifacient drugs, contraception, and sterilization’ and denying their employees contraception coverage in the company’s plan.” (Rewire; February 2013)
16. Weingartz Supply Company
Summary: A secular Michigan company that sells outdoor power equipment and employees 170 people. Owner Daniel Weingartz is Roman Catholic.
Status: The district court granted a preliminary injunction for plaintiff Daniel Weingartz and Weingartz Supply Company, but not Legatus, a non-profit organization comprising more than 4,000 Catholic business owners and organizations that also got involved with the case. Defendants appealed to the Sixth Circuit in January. The government has filed a cross-appeal.
President: Daniel Weingartz
Weingartz has deliberately excluded contraceptive coverage in his company’s health-care plan. “Mr. Weingartz, a Roman Catholic, said he had devised a health plan that, in keeping with his religious beliefs, excluded coverage of contraceptives.” (New York Times; November 2012)
17. Infrastructure Alternatives, Inc.
Summary: A Michigan contractor in the fields of environmental dredging, contaminated sediment remediation, geotextile tube installation, and water treatment operations.
Status: Complaint filed.
18. Tonn and Blank Construction, LLC
Indiana Construction company launches suit.
Summary: An Indiana construction company. The suit hasn’t gotten any publicity.
Status: Awaiting responses to motion for preliminary injunction, motion to dismiss, and motion to consolidate with Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
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