‘Holy War’: Catholic Organizations Suing Obama Administration Over Birth-Control Mandate

Timothy Cardinal Dolan took to court to squash President Obama’s mandate that religious employers provide workers with birth control coverage.

Headed by Bishop David Zubik, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Catholic Charities and Catholic Cemeteries filed a 60-page lawsuit over a controversial mandate on birth control and other women’s health services. Photo: pushkins/Flickr

The list of the plaintiffs also includes the University of Notre Dame, which in February had praised President Barack Obama for pledging to accommodate religious groups and find a way to soften the rule.

Notre Dame president, the Rev. John Jenkins, explained that the school decided to sue as “progress has not been encouraging” in talks with administration officials.

As the Bloomberg’s Business Week reports, 43 Catholic organizations, including the archdioceses of Washington and New York, the University of Notre Dame and Catholic University of America, filed 12 suits today in courts around the country.

“This lawsuit is about one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference,” the archdiocese of Washington and the Catholic University of America said in the complaint.

“It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception,” the complaint reads, adding that nothing prevents the government from making such services more available.

“We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress, and we’ll keep at it, but there’s still no fix,” said New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.”

“This lawsuit is meant to protect that freedom already guaranteed to us by the Constitution,” Bishop David Zubik, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said.

In response to similar objections, President Obama released an accommodation last February, providing health services to all women but making the insurance companies, not the Catholic institution, pay for it.

“These employers will not have to pay for or provide contraceptive services. But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services just like other women,” Obama said at the time.

However, the bishop Zubik said it’s not enough. “The issue there for me is that we’re still involved because we would have to facilitate that process,” he explained.

Zubik added that the diocese has a self-insured insurance plan, but HHS officials announced they are working on a way to accommodate even this, reports CBS News. The bishop denied this lawsuit was politically-motivated.

“The cases are an important effort to vindicate what I think is a foundational freedom for Americans: religious liberty,” said Richard W. Garnett, professor of law and associate dean at Notre Dame Law School, who isn’t involved in the cases.

“It’s important that people understand it isn’t about a plot to prevent people from getting access to contraception. There are all kinds of ways the government can find to provide contraception to women who couldn’t qualify for Medicaid.”

The Supreme Court will reportedly rule next month on the constitutionality of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obama’s biggest domestic achievement, and may throw out part or all of the health care overhaul, which has been challenged by 26 US states.

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