Federal Judge Delays Ruling on MRC Lawsuit -- Potentially 'Ruinous Fines' Still Hang Over MRC

By Michael W. Chapman | June 6, 2014 | 3:05 PM EDT

(AP Photo)

-- A federal judge on Friday decided to delay ruling on the Media Research Center's (MRC) request for a preliminary injuction against the Obamacare contraception and abortion drug mandate, saying he wanted to study the matter further and would issue a written ruling in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, the threat posed by the mandate "still hangs over the MRC's head," said MRC President Brent Bozell ouside the courtroom. But he also stressed he was happy with the outcome so far because he believes the judge heard and understood the case.

“We are happy following today’s proceedings and believe Judge Lee heard and understood our case," said Bozell in a statement. "We are confident that we educated the court about the ruinous fines the MRC faces in the event that the injunction is denied, and are optimistic moving forward."

L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center.

"As a self-certified organization, MRC’s leadership and employees practice and live by sincerely held Judeo-Christian religious beliefs, and we believe abortion, whether through the actions of an abortionist or a drug, is the taking of innocent human life," said Bozell.

"While awaiting a ruling," he said,  "the MRC and its employees will continue to exercise our First Amendment rights by practicing and abiding by our faith in our everyday lives including in the operation of our mission-oriented non-profit organization.”

The MRC is the parent organization of CNSNews.com.

The MRC argued its position for a preliminary injunction before Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in Alexnadira, VA. The defendants, the Health and Human Services Department and the Treasury Department, were represented by lead attorney Benjamin Berwick, who is with the Department of Justice.

The MRC requested the preliminary injunction as part of its lawsuit -- Media Research Center v. Sebelius, et al -- which it filed it the same court on April 11.

The lawsuit essentially states that the MRC is exempt from the Obamacare contraception mandate because the non-profit is a self-certified religious organization, which is allowed under the mandate's rules, and it wants the court to formally declare that this is correct: the MRC is properly self-certified, making it an "exempt organization."

President Barack Obama and then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in 2012. (AP)

The Obamacare mandate says that nearly all companies with more than 50 employees must offer health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs, such as ella,  without co-payments.  Many employers, including the MRC, object to that mandate, stating it violates their religious beliefs.

"This lawsuit is about religious freedom and the conscience rights of individuals to operate their enterprises free from government coercion, reprisal, or punishment,” Bozell said after the lawsuit was filed.

"The Obamacare mandate destroys the ability of free people to practice their faith in their everyday lives and forces them to either reject their faith or face crippling government imposed fines and punishment, in our case over $4.5 million dollars per year,” he said.  “We do not stop being religious, moral people the moment we walk out of our houses of worship.”

At the hearing on Friday, attorney Lauren Mills, representing the MRC, explained that while the group has self-certified as an exempt organization, the rule is too vague to ensure that the current administration or any future administration could not step in and say no, the MRC is not exempt. If that were to happen, the MRC potentially could face catasrophic financial penalties.

The Plan B One Step label says "this product works mainly by preventing ovulation (egg release). It may also prevent fertilization of a released egg (joining of sperm and egg) or attachment of a fertilized egg to the uterus (implantation)."

Those fines are $100 per employee per day. With its 60-some employees, the MRC faces potential penalties of $12,500 a day or $4,562,500 a year. To date, the potential cost to the MRC is $450,000, said Mills.

"The penalty looms," Mills told Judge Lee.  "The MRC is trying to comply with the Affordable Care Act" but "there is no safe harbor," he said. "They are not just fines, they are ruinous fines."

Berwick, representing the federal government, said the cost of the fines was "speculative," and that "the government has taken no steps to question self-certification" of the MRC or any other entity.

Judge Lee noted that the MRC has self-certified and, so far, the government has taken no action. But he asked attorney Mills if the MRC had reason to believe that, at some point down the road, they could lose self-certification and be fined.

Mills explained that that is the looming fear and concern, which is why the MRC was seeking a preliminary injunction,  to protect it from potential fines, pending a trial to determine that it is definitively and legally an "exempt organization."

CNSNews.com tried to ask Berwick if the government views the MRC as an "exempt organization," but he said he could not comment and referred any questions to the HHS press office.

Judge Lee is expected to issue his written ruling on the injunction request fairly soon, likely within the new few weeks.

Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman