South Charleston car dealership owner sues over ACA provision - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

South Charleston car dealership owner sues over ACA provision

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The owner of a South Charleston car dealership says his religious freedom will be violated if a federal court does not intervene in the enforcement of a provision under the new health care act that requires plans to provide emergency contraceptives.

Brought by The Family Policy Council of West Virginia and the Liberty Institute, on behalf of Joseph Holland Jr. and Joe Holland Chevrolet, the suit seeks relief against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Treasury, Seth Harris and Jacob Lew.

The suit, filed in federal court for the southern district of West Virginia, asserts the provision that provides coverage for emergency contraceptives and what he calls "abortion-related counseling" is unconstitutional. 

"This mandate deprives plaintiffs of their fundamental right to practice their sincere and deeply held religious beliefs as protected by the First Amendment," the suit states.

Holland seeks the court to declare the government mandate unconstitutional and enter a temporary restraining order. U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston ordered a June 26 phone conference for the consideration of a temporary restraining order.

Jeremy Dys, president and general counsel of The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, said another hearing will be July 23. However, now they must wait to see if the government chooses to enforce the mandate in the interim time, which he says could subject Holland to a $15,000 fine per day.

"That's the equivalent of giving away a brand new Chevy Cruze per day," Dys said. "We're hopeful that the government would not enforce the penalty against him until the litigation is concluded. … We're looking at either him having violated convictions or going out of business. We should be absolutely outraged."

However, Rachel Huff, education and outreach director of West Virginia Free, said emergency contraception is a "safe and effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy."

"And it will not end an existing pregnancy," she said. "The vast majority of women support access to birth control and it's upsetting that there are still certain fringe organizations who are trying to turn back the clock on women's health by creating their own medical definition and enforcing their beliefs on the rest of us."

Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandated employers and insurance companies to cover contraceptive and sterilization methods.

The department did, however, propose amendments a few months ago to exempt nonprofit religious organizations — such as Catholic charities — to avoid a direct payment of that contraceptive coverage. Instead, their insurance companies would separately provide free coverage.

Holland Chevrolet provides health insurance to 150 full-time employees and would thus be required to implement a plan with this government mandate. This current plan runs through the end of this month and the new plan year starts July 1, the suit states.

Holland said since he is president of the company and chairman of its board of directors, he would be responsible for implementing a plan with the provision in which he does not support.

In his suit, Holland explains he is a "born-again Christian" and practices his business in accordance with his beliefs, such as closing his business on Sundays.

"One of Mr. Holland's sincerely held religious beliefs is that all innocent human life is sacred to its creator and that it is profoundly immoral to procure, facilitate, fund or endorse any form of abortion," the suit states.

He says he also supports religious activities such as the Silver Ring Ministry, a pre-marital sexual abstinence program and Life Chain, a pro-life ministry.

He says this mandate would undermine the ministry.

The suit notes the government defendants have granted exceptions to the health care act's requirements such as those extending to large corporations, labor unions and religious entities. However, he says these exemptions do not go far enough.

The suit states his business could be subjected to penalties, the basic penalty being $100 per day, per employee, if they do not comply with the government mandate.

He said noncompliance also could trigger enforcement mechanisms under ERISA.

"The main point is Joey stands to be punished for doing business in accordance with his faith and values," Dys said. "He has operated his business under Christian values. He shuts his car lot down on Sundays, one of the most profitable days for a car dealership."

But Huff says contraception is an important part of women's health care.

"Women need access to contraception so they can choose how to plan their life, not their boss or employer," she said. "This is a workers' rights issue, a basic right to West Virginia women. A woman should be in charge of her own reproductive decisions -- not her boss."