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Car dealer challenges health law over morning-after pill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Calling the mandate a violation of the First Amendment, South Charleston car dealer Joe Holland is challenging an Affordable Care Act provision that requires employer-provided insurance plans to cover morning-after pills.

"No West Virginian should be fined or penalized by their government for simply living one's life as a person of faith in public," Jeremiah Dys, president of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, said Tuesday in a prepared statement. "Today, Joey Holland stands up for all West Virginians, who simply wish to live, learn, and do business according to their faith."

Joe Holland Chevrolet, a family-owned car dealership with more than 150 employees, could face fines of more than $15,000 a day if Holland's request for relief isn't granted by July 1, according to a release from the Liberty Institute and the Family Policy Council.

Those two organizations, along with attorneys from Robinson & McElwee PLLC, filed the lawsuit June 24 in U.S. District Court on behalf of Holland and the dealership, both of whom are named as plaintiffs.

Holland's lawsuit contends that by forcing the dealership to include in its group health insurance coverage "drugs that induce abortion ... and contraceptive counseling," the law deprives the company of their right to practice their Christian religious beliefs.

Holland recently drew criticism when a group he is a member of sponsored abstinence-only speaker Pam Stenzel's talk at George Washington High School.

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.

Holland believes that the morning-after pills and anything that stops the growth of a human embryo after the point of conception is abortion, Dys said.

But advocates disagree that with the assertion that the morning-after pill is abortion.

"[The morning-after pill] is a safe and effective way to prevent an unintended pregnancy after unprotected sex or a contraception failure," said Rachel Huff, education and outreach director of West Virginia Free. The pill won't end a pregnancy, she said.

"To make any other assertion is going against modern medicine and science," Huff said.

Holland is the first person in the state to file such a lawsuit, but his joins 61 other cases and more than 200 other plaintiffs nationwide who contend that the HHS mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and freedom of religion under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said he expects the Supreme Court to eventually rule on the mandate because there have been so many challenges. Places of worship are exempt from the mandate, but faith-based universities, hospitals and some businesses have challenged the mandate, he said.

"Some people make it a black-and-white issue and to me, it's not," Bryant said. "There are religious issues here and there's public health here. Anytime you have two very legitimate issues, trying to draw a dividing line between them is always very touchy."

Bryant didn't say whether he thought the mandate was unconstitutional.

"I'm not a constitutional scholar," Bryant said. "I don't think that employers can pick and choose what types of health care they can provide to their employees and which they can't."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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