The Catholic owners of Hercules Industries, a private company that manufactures heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning equipment, claimed that providing birth control under the firm's insurance program threatened their religious freedom.
District Judge John L. Kane made clear his decision was applicable only to that family, although the ruling could be cited as a precedent in similar cases. There are more than 20 pending legal challenges to this provision of the Affordable Care Act, according to Reuters.
Multiple affiliates of the Catholic Church have previously criticized this provision, as have Republican Party politicians. The Archdiocese of New York, the University of Notre Dame, and the Catholic University of America are among the organizations challenging the provision in court.
The provision goes into effect Aug. 1, except for nonprofit employers that, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage under their insurance plans. They will be provided an additional year to comply with the provision, as noted by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Because Hercules Industries is a private, profit-seeking company, it does not qualify for this one-year exemption, as reported by Politico.
"On balance," Kane wrote in his order, "the threatened harm to plaintiffs, impingement of their right to freely exercise their religious beliefs, and the concomitant public interest in that right strongly favor the entry of injunctive relief."
In blocking enforcement of the contraception-coverage provision -- among the most controversial aspects of President Barack Obama's health-care plan -- Kane contended any harm to the company's employees "pales in comparison to the possible infringement upon [the owners'] constitutional and statutory rights."
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney praised the decision as a step in the right direction, although he said more steps need to be taken, according to Politico.
Meanwhile, Sebelius said she was "disappointed" by the ruling.
"Preventive services are critical to women's health," Politico quoted Sebelius as saying, "and the administration is committed to ensuring women have access to the health care they need regardless of where they work. Health decisions should be between women and their doctors, not their employers."