ST. LOUIS (AP) — A federal appeals court has issued an order temporarily blocking implementation of the contraception mandate of the federal health care law for a Missouri business owner.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a preliminary injunction Wednesday on behalf of Frank O’Brien and his company, O’Brien Industrial Holdings LLC of St. Louis.

At least three dozen suits have been filed around the country challenging the requirement that workplace health plans cover birth control. O’Brien, a devout Catholic, claimed in his suit that the requirement infringes on his religious beliefs.

U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson dismissed the suit in September, but the appeals court panel halted implementation for O’Brien’s business pending outcome of appeals of Jackson’s ruling. The one-sentence appeals panel ruling did not offer an explanation for the 2-1 decision.

“The order sends a message that the religious beliefs of employers like Frank O’Brien must be respected by the government,” said O’Brien’s attorney, Francis Manion of the American Center for Law and Justice, an anti-abortion legal organization based in Washington. “We have argued from the beginning that employers like Frank O’Brien must be able to operate their business in a manner consistent with their moral values, not the values of the government.”

The ACLJ said the order is the first decision from a federal appeals court for litigation challenging the contraception mandate.

Messages left with Michelle Bennett, attorney for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, were not returned. But American Civil Liberties Union attorney Anthony Rothert, who also argued on behalf of the contraception mandate, said the ruling was not unexpected.

“These are serious, weighty questions that deserve serious attention from the court of appeals, so maintaining the status quo while they decide the case is not a huge setback,” Rothert said.

O’Brien Industrial Holdings is a secular company with 87 employees engaged in mining, processing and distributing refractory and ceramic materials and products. A statue of Jesus sits in the main lobby. Its statement of values includes references to the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments.

The original suit filed in March said the contraception mandate forces the company to make a choice between complying with the law or facing “ruinous fines that would have a crippling impact on their ability to survive economically.”

Mandatory coverage for contraception has been among the most contentious issues of the health care law. In June, demonstrators gathered on Capitol Hill and in more than 100 places around the country in opposition to the mandate.

Several states have joined a lawsuit to try and block the part of the law that requires contraception coverage. The suit argues that the rule violates the rights of employers that object to the use of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Administration officials have said individual decisions about whether to use birth control, and what kind, remain in the hands of women and their doctors.

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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