The legal battle took an important step forward Wednesday when an appeals court here heard arguments in two cases brought by business owners who are Catholic. Another challenge is scheduled to be heard Thursday by an appeals court in Denver, and two other courts are set to hear similar cases over the next two weeks.
There are 60 cases filed nationwide objecting to the impending mandate, which requires employers to provide no-cost coverage of all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The challenges are split almost equally between those brought by corporations and by nonprofit entities with a religious affiliation or moral objection to contraception.
So far, it is the objections from religious-affiliated nonprofit corporations and institutions that have drawn the most attention. Groups such as Catholic bishops have accused the Obama administration of waging war on religious groups by insisting on the contraceptive mandate. But those cases are mostly in legal limbo as the administration works on regulations that might provide a compromise.
Further along in the legal process are the suits filed by businesses with religious owners. These enterprises are involved in profit-making activities that have nothing to do with faith. The companies, among other things, make wooden cabinets, run a national chain of arts and crafts stores and supply salad greens to local Panera restaurants.
Their challenges offer a complex set of issues — religious freedom, equality for women workers, whether a company rather than a person is protected in its exercise of religion — that already are dividing lower courts.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit heard a pair of cases brought by an Illinois-based construction company, K&L Contractors, and an Indiana maker of vehicle-safety products, Grote Industries. Both firms were seeking permanent injunctions against the contraceptive requirement.
Cyril and Jane Korte, who own the privately held construction company, have vowed to run the business in concert with their Catholic beliefs, according to their lawyer, Edward L. White III. White is a senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, one of several groups representing business owners in the lawsuits.
He said the law would force them to either submit to actions that “implicate their moral beliefs” or be subject to more than $700,000 in annual penalties. “It would destroy the business,” he told the court.
The federal government, for its part, has drawn support from groups advocating for women’s rights and for the separation of church and state, as well as civil libertarians.