Catholic Church Sues Obama Administration Over Contraceptive Provisions in the Health Care Law

The Obama Administration is facing another challenge to the national health care law. With over half of the states opposing the law in the federal courts, including the pending case before the Supreme Court, the University of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of New York and 41 other Roman Catholic institutions have sued over the requirement that employers cover contraception in workers’ health plans.

Section 2713 of the Public Health Service Act, enacted by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148) provides:

“A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall, at a minimum provide coverage for and shall not impose any cost sharing requirements for— . . . (4) with respect to women, such additional preventive care and screenings . . . as provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration . . . .”

The referenced regulations then require “All Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”

Those provisions, the plaintiffs argue, conflict with deeply held religious beliefs and practices.

The lawsuit raises an interesting question of where to draw the line between religious services and more secular activities by religious institutions. While a church is protected by the free exercise clause, it is also part of a large non-for-profit corporation. In the case of the Catholic Church it is a major employer and the operator of a host of different activities.

The lawsuit by Notre Dame states that “[t]he government…cannot justify its decision to force Notre Dame to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to these services in violation of its sincerely held religious beliefs. If the government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner, there is no apparent limit to the government’s power.” That is far from evident. Existing case law would in my view support the Administration in mandating a generally applicable rule on this kind. The courts have been admittedly reluctant to draw lines between protected religious activities and non-protected activities of religious institutions. However, the slippery slope argument may go the other way: if the government cannot require this type of insurance coverage what would such a holding mean for the future of regulations in the health care and other areas. The Senate previously split 51-48 on getting rid of the contraception requirement and the lawsuit is likely to result in further erosion of support for Obama among Catholics.

One of the most difficult hurdles for the plaintiffs is the decision in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), where the Supreme Court ruled that a state could deny unemployment benefits to a person terminated for using of peyote. That decision was written by one of the justices that the Plaintiffs are likely most counting on in an eventual argument before the Supreme Court — Justice Scalia. Scalia upheld the law as a “neutral law of general applicability.” Notably, he relied on the very inverse slippery slope argument above: “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” The Court drew the distinction between laws prohibiting physical acts of worship and such neutral rules. The case does not rule out a possible ruling in favor of these plaintiffs, but it (and other cases) give the advantage to the government.

Clearly, the plaintiffs have the advantage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), which imposes a heavy burden on the government when they can show that a regulation substantially burdens their exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. However, there remains the question of substantial burden and the possibility that the government can show a compelling interest in light of the slippery slope danger. There are thousands of different religious organizations in this country with countless religious practices and values that might become the basis for claimed exceptions. Such a ruling would have sweeping implications for state and federal regulations across the country.

Here is a copy of the complaint: complaint-final

Source: Wall Street Journal

68 thoughts on “Catholic Church Sues Obama Administration Over Contraceptive Provisions in the Health Care Law”

  1. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Scalia will draw a distinction between someone using Peyote and someone refusing to sterilize a woman.

  2. Tax breaks are government money. When you get a tax break the money I pay in taxes subsidizes your activities. In the Catholic Church’s situation however they take billions of tax payer dollars –government Money to run their hospitals schools and oThe allegedly charitable facilities. they take all kinds of government money they should follow the rules. As to the law suit each of us is probably paying for it through our tax dollars. Churches should be funded by ther parishioners; if that does not work then they should go out of business.

  3. All this over something (god) which no one has yet proven to even exist. So anyone can form an institution based on virtually nothing, and as long as enough people believe, its interests can trump all? What a coup! Would be laughable if not for the incredible damage religion inflicts.

  4. JH “Obama needs to back off, and respect the free will of the humans in the Catholic Church.”

    Then the Catholics need to stop taking money from Obama. they can do as they wish on their own dime.

    What about the free will of women who need these drugs to stay healthy?

  5. CLH, re: Taliban. I remember when Catholic nuns wore black habit from top of the head to their black shoes with white thingies around their faces. I don’t see that so much any more. I guess in the interests of modernization to the 19th century. The all male-hierarchy of the church still dictates far too much to women, e.g. that they should bear as many children as they can. Most Catholics (in the US at least) use birth control. They need to move to the 21st, or at least the 20th century. Btw, the nuns support the health care plan

    As I understand it, the law cannot exempt just one specific organization (that was apparent when they tried to legislate against Acorn), so there would be general exception. The slippery slope are the other employers deciding that they have a religious objection to various parts of the insurance as well.

    As employers of many people, Catholic and non-Catholic, the provisions of the law should prevail.

  6. Can’t understand too much of this new topic. I just want a priest to give me Last Rites in a hospital real fast, should I need it. If the Catholic hospitals
    disappear the remaining secular hospitals will slowly siphon religion out of their hospitals.

    1. The Religions don’t teach the truth about Hell or the devil as being just two lies. Have humans believe them sets up a lot of humans to be deceived by the devil showing up not looking like he is depicted.In religions. That would deceve a lot of humans no matter how many were alive. How can humans learn the truth where it is not being spoken?

  7. If the Catholic Church is so concerned about l birth control, why don’t they prohibit viagra and other similar drugs? Also, they don’t seem to be too concerned about the life after it comes out of the womb which is also true for many Christians who oppose artifical birth control and abortion under any circumstance.


  8. Sorry for the comment breaks- my internet is going in and out. RE Krissy- I agree. If you receive government money, you play by government rules. Don’t like it? Don’t take government money. I do not consider tax break receiving government money, but as far as other subsidies, such as anything through grants for education or for Medicare/Medicaid, you either spurn the money, or follow the rules. There is nothing mandating that they have to accept the government funds.

  9. Don’t worry, Scalia will do as his church commands and disregard his own words and precedent. He has NO principles that are sacred other than making law to suit hmself and his prejudices.

  10. rafflaw- That’s a bit hateful. Full disclosure time- I’m not a christian, or mormon, or muslim. I’m not religious at all. But to equate the catholic church in the US with the Taliban? Spoken like an ivory tower elitist snob who’s never going to have to face the consequences of the next bombing attack by the Taliban. Or have the Taliban force you to wear a hajib. Or kill you in the name of honor. You equate contraception with murder and rape and the killing of innocent people? You disgust me. rafflaw, you are way more intelligent than that comment suggested, please don’t say things like that. Rest of full disclosure- I’ve killed, and been part of teams and operations that have killed, a great many Taliban. I don’t like them. At all.

  11. It is right for the Catholic Church to respect life. That much I can say for the catholic Church. The thing of it is the Church,and state are in spirit the same. For Obama to want to make the ending or the preventing of life easy is the same as waring wanting to prevent life. Using the scalpel on a dog does not kill the dog, but it prevents life from occurring. . The intent of the Catholic Church is to not prevent life from occurring. Obama intent is to make it easier for life to not occur. Obama needs to back off, and respect the free will of the humans in the Catholic Church.

  12. I have mixed feelings about this lawsuit. First, I’m male, so the issue of women’s rights is really not something I should be commenting on in the first place (unless and until they impede my rights, which I can’t really see happening anyway). Secondly, I was unaware of the case law mentioned, but I don’t see how this could apply, except as an indication of the court’s potential attitude. The issues are only tangentially related as far as I can see. While both concern issues of religion, they don’t really concern issues of State v. Religion, as it’s an employment related law, and the institution that terminated the employee was not a religious institution. If women don’t like the catholic position on contraception, they are more than free to find work elsewhere, just as a person who’s peyote use is part of their religion is free to find employment somewhere else, and there should be a solution short of having the government impose contraception on the providers against their strict religious beliefs. On the flip side, it’s not like the government is requiring them to:
    A) Provide health care in the first place.
    B) Force women to use contraception.
    C) Make the employers pay for it, unless the employer is underwriting the coverage.
    So it should be interesting to see how it plays out. I personally don’t have a stake in the issue, and I don’t actually care one way or the other. As far as contraception needed for medical purposes aside from direct contraception, the church is being more than unreasonable IMHO. Even LDS and Islamic cultures permit otherwise verboten substances to be used for medical purposes.

    RE David L. Anderson- Should all not-for-profits, including secular, lose their tax exempt status because they also lobby for their financial gain? The catholic church is hardly alone in their lobbying.

  13. krissy, They don’t care that much about the bible. They care more about encyclicals.

  14. the church cant have it both ways. If they want to take federal and state funds to run their hospitals, then they cant deny their employees contraception, and dying women tubal ligations. If they want a biblical basis for practicing medicine and administering employee benefits they can do so without taxpayer money. We were wrong to assume that religious institutions could deliver publicly funded health care without bias.

  15. The Catholic Church is openly supporting Romney and the republican party, and I will protest by not attending and voting a straight democratic ticket.

  16. If the government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner, there is no apparent limit to the government’s power.

    Institutions have religious beliefs? I don’t think so. Since institutions don’t have religious beliefs, they lack standing.

  17. The Catholic Church is actually litigating against the best interests of its members. If this lawsuit is successful, then we will have the American equivalent of the Taliban here.

  18. This church is becoming more and more a disgrace. C.f.the Bishops.

    Should this church (all churches?) lose the tax exemption since they do more and more lobbying directed to their financial advantage?

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