Advertisement
  1. Health

Largo business challenging U.S. health care law gets religious reprieve

Published Jun. 27, 2013

TAMPA — A Largo high-tech engineering firm doesn't have to offer emergency contraception under its medical plan while its case challenging part of the federal health care law is pending in court, a judge said this week.

Beckwith Electric Co. is owned by Thomas Beckwith, a devout Southern Baptist who believes emergency contraceptives are immoral and amount to "killing innocent human life." The 168-employee firm argues in federal court filings that emergency contraceptives, such as the so-called morning-after pill, violates the owner's religious beliefs.

Because its insurance plan was up for renewal this month, Beckwith could have been required to start covering the contraceptives while the case was under review. U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich granted Beckwith a reprieve, saying the company may be due religious protections under federal law.

"Put simply, an individual's right to freely exercise religion includes the right to exercise religion in association with others under the corporate umbrella," Kovachevich wrote in a 37-page order.

The federal government can appeal the order. Otherwise, the case will proceed toward trial.

Thomas Beckwith, 67, on Wednesday said the judge's decision did not surprise him.

"I was counting on God to take care of me, and he did," said Beckwith.

Churches have received exemptions from the mandate. Under a compromise pushed by the Obama administration, nonprofit institutions, such as faith-based schools and charities, don't have to arrange or pay for contraceptive coverage, though their employees can work directly with the insurers to get it.

But for-profit companies are a different matter. Beckwith Electric is one of about three dozen companies that have sued the federal government over the mandate, said Gretchen Borchelt, senior counsel for the National Women's Law Center. No federal appeals court has ruled on any of those cases.

About 20 of those companies, including Beckwith, have received temporary relief. Beckwith is thought to be the first Florida company to get such an order, said Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Borchelt said the order allows employers to impose their religious beliefs on their workers, who also pay into their health insurance plans. She said an employer might begin denying other benefits under the guise of religion.

"We're worried this could open the door to allow religious discrimination against employees," she said.

Beckwith said that his employees receive comprehensive medical coverage, including non-emergency birth control. He said his employees can purchase emergency contraceptives, but he doesn't want any part of it.

"I happen to be a Christian," he said, "and we didn't want to have anything to do with killing."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. In this Sept. 6, 2019, photo, Donna Cryer holds up family photos that include her father Roland Henry, as she poses for a photo in Washington. When her father died, she tried to donate his organs, yet the local organ collection agency said no, without talking to the family or providing a reason. "It was devastating to be told there was nothing they considered worthy of donation. Nada. Not a kidney, not a liver, not tissue,” recalled Donna Cryer, president of the nonprofit Global Liver Institute and herself a recipient of a liver transplant. SUSAN WALSH  |  AP
    Under U.S. transplant rules, the country is divided into 58 zones, each assigned an “organ procurement organization” in charge of donation at death.
  2. Kreshae Humphrey, 26, bathes her daughter, Nevaeh Soto De Jesus, 3, inside of a baby bath tub in the middle of their living room. The parents bathe all three of their girls with bottled water because they believe the children were sickened by the tap water at the Southern Comfort mobile home park off U.S. 19 in Clearwater. The family is suing the park's owner over the issue, but the owner and the state say there are no problems with the drinking water there. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    The owner of Southern Comfort denies there are problems with the drinking water. But the park is still being shut down. All families must be out by Oct. 31.
  3. An arm of the Department of Health and Human Services is taking steps to establish a National Volunteer Care Corps that would recruit healthy retirees and young adults to help seniors live independently. The ranks of Americans age 85 and up are set to swell to 14.6 million in 2040, up from more than 6 million now. Times (2010)
    A federal agency is exploring a national volunteer program modeled after the Peace Corps to help care for the booming elderly population.
  4. Medicare can be confusing. But there's help from trained counselors for SHINE. Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders is a free program offered by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and your local Area Agency on Aging. Michele Miller
    Columnist Michele Miller shares her husband’s journey to get on Medicare and how local volunteers can help seniors navigate the system.
  5. Ana Martinez, a medical assistant at the Sea Mar Community Health Center in Seattle, gives a patient a flu shot. Some signs are already pointing to an active flu season in the Tampa Bay area. [TED S. WARREN   |   Associated Press]
    One area hospital has seen a sharp increase this month in children coming in with flu-like symptoms. Health officials are urging people to get a flu shot.
  6. Vagner Lage, 27, and Ayana Lage, 26, pose with a sonogram of their child. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Pregnancy loss can be isolating and carry guilt and shame. It’s time to end that.
  7. FILE - This 1975 file microscope image made available by the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows chlamydia trachomatis bacteria magnified 200 times. U.S. infections from three sexually-transmitted diseases have risen for the fifth consecutive year and broken more records. More than 1.7 million cases of chlamydia were reported in 2018. DR. E. ARUM  |  Dr. E. Arum, Dr. N. Jacobs/CDC via AP, File
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the numbers on Tuesday. The increases coincided with public health funding cuts and clinic closures.
  8. President Donald Trump speaks to his supporters at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center in The Villages on Oct. 3. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    While the executive order spells out few details, it calls for the removal of “unnecessary barriers” to private contracting.
  9. Thomas Perlmann, far right, Secretary-General of the Nobel Committee announces the 2019 Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine during a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden, Monday Oct. 7, 2019. The prize has been awarded to scientists, from left on the screen, Gregg L. Semenza, Peter J. Ratcliffe and William G. Kaelin Jr. receiving the award jointly for their discoveries of "how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability". PONTUS LUNDAHL/TT  |  AP
    The scientists identified the biological machinery that regulates how genes respond to varying levels of oxygen.
  10. President Donald Trump signs an executive order on Medicare Advantage while his supporters look on including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center in The Villages on Thursday. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The president took aim at overhaul plans being advocated by his Democratic opponents.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement