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Action in W.Va. case expected after birth control ruling

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Attorneys for South Charleston car dealer Joe Holland expect a federal judge in West Virginia will soon make a swift ruling in their favor after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that employers can refuse to pay for contraception for religious reasons.

Local proponents of reproductive rights called the decision troubling and said workers shouldn’t be subject to the religious beliefs of their employers.

The Affordable Care Act requires new insurance plans to cover access to FDA-approved contraceptives, including Plan B and Ella, known as morning-after pills. In a 5-4 decision, justices said that violates the religious freedom of certain employers.

“The court recognized business owners like Joey Holland do not shed their First Amendment right of religious liberty when they choose to enter the marketplace in the corporate form,” said Jeremiah Dys, an attorney for Holland.

Holland’s lawsuit, filed in June 2013, claims that by forcing the dealership to include in its group health insurance coverage “drugs that induce abortion … and contraceptive counseling,” the law deprives company owners of their right to practice their Christian religious beliefs.

In December, U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston delayed Holland’s lawsuit until the Supreme Court made a decision in a similar case filed by Hobby Lobby Inc. and Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain.

Dys, who is senior counsel with the Liberty Institute, said he expects a motion for summary judgment will be filed in the next few weeks that asks Johnston to rule in Holland’s favor as a matter of law.

“We’ll be updating the court today to make sure the court is aware of this opinion,” Dys said. “I think it’s pretty obvious the Supreme Court has spoken on this issue and it will apply directly to Joey Holland’s case.” The Family Policy Council of West Virginia also represents Holland.

WV Free, a reproductive rights group, said in an emailed statement that justices got it wrong and that the decision would affect thousands of West Virginia women and families.

 “The Supreme Court of the United States made the wrong decision today by denying women the right to make their own personal health-care decisions. The workplace is not the venue to exercise religious discrimination and persecution,” said Sarah Brown, vice president and secretary of WV Free.

“This is not the time to roll back the clock and discriminate against women in the workplace. We have a lot of important work to do, and lawsuits like this remove the focus on what is vitally important — ensuring that West Virginia women and families have affordable health-care coverage.”

Jennifer Meinig, executive director of the state American Civil Liberties Union, said the decision was unprecedented.

“Never before has the Supreme Court said that employers can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees a benefit that they are guaranteed by law to receive,” Meinig said. “Although the Hobby Lobby decision is limited to a specific subset of corporations, the effects are far-reaching…

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