Catholic groups take fight against Obama birth-control rules to court

Some 43 Catholic groups including Notre Dame are attempting to block rules in the new health-care law that require health insurance to provide access to birth-control services. 

Christian Science Monitor

In a coordinated pushback against the Obama administration, 43 Catholic institutions filed a dozen lawsuits in federal courts across the country on Monday, charging that new federal rules requiring most religious employers to provide health insurance that includes birth-control services violates their fundamental right to religious freedom.

The lawsuits are asking federal judges to declare that new rules enacted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in January violate First Amendment protections of the free exercise of religion and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Under the new rules, most employers – including religious charities, hospitals, and universities – are required to provide their employees cost-free access to reproductive health-care services including sterilization, contraception, and some abortion-causing drugs.

Are you smarter than an atheist? A religion quiz.

Catholic organizations objected to the rules, arguing that they placed religious employers in the untenable position of subsidizing a mode of conduct that would violate their religious teachings and moral values.

“We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with Congress – and we’ll keep at it – but there’s still no fix. Time is running out,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement applauding the litigation.

“Our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now,” he said.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf a range of Catholic institutions, including the University of Notre Dame and Catholic University of America.

“This lawsuit is about one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference,” wrote Stephen Brogan in a 57-page complaint filed in federal court in Washington.

“It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. Those services are freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the government itself from making them more widely available,” Mr. Brogan said.

“Here, however, the government seeks to require plaintiffs – all Catholic entities – to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs by providing, paying for, and/or facilitating access to those services,” he wrote.

The women’s reproductive health organization, Planned Parenthood, denounced the lawsuits as an effort to restrict women’s access to low-cost birth control.

“This isn’t a religious or political issue – it’s a medical issue, and that’s where we should keep it,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a statement.

“It is unbelievable that in the year 2012 we have to fight for access to birth control. Yet this lawsuit would make it harder for millions of women to get birth control.”

After the controversy arose over the HHS rule change, the Obama administration offered an alternative. Officials proposed that health-insurance companies could be required to provide reproductive services free of charge to employees of objecting religious organizations.

Catholic officials said the change would not resolve the core issue. “Catholic teaching does not simply require Catholic institutions to avoid directly paying for practices that are viewed as intrinsically immoral,” the complaint filed in Washington says. “It also requires them to avoid actions that facilitate those practices.”

Notre Dame Law Professor Richard Garnett said the HHS mandate imposes a “serious and unnecessary burden” on many religious institutions.

He said the lawsuits were not asking the courts to endorse a particular religious view, only to respect and accommodate their views.

“Religious institutions are not seeking to control what their employees buy, use, or do in private; they are trying to avoid being conscripted by the government into acting in a way that would be inconsistent with their character, mission, and values,” Professor Garnett said in a statement.

In addition to charging violations of religious freedom and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the complaint also accuses the administration of engaging in religious discrimination, interfering in internal church matters, and violating free-speech protections by attempting to compel Catholic institutions to spend money in support of a viewpoint that conflicts with church teachings.

Are you smarter than an atheist? A religion quiz.

View Comments (74)

Recommended for You

  • Police officer shot after responding to wrong home

    ATLANTA (AP) — A police officer was shot and critically wounded Monday when he responded to a call of a suspicious person and showed up at the wrong house, authorities said.

    Associated Press
  • Man sentenced to life with no parole walks free in Missouri

    JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man sentenced to life in prison without parole on a marijuana-related charge walked out of a Missouri prison a free man on Tuesday, after spending two decades behind bars.

    Associated Press
  • Woman Becoming Nun Needs Friend's Interest, Not Concern

    DEAR ABBY: I was best friends with "Joanne" after we met in middle school. She comes from a conservative Christian family and has three successful siblings. This has made her quirky, media-driven pursuits and city life a disappointment to her family. When we were teens and she learned that I was a…

    Dear Abby
  • Real say De Gea transfer not their fault

    Real Madrid said on Tuesday they had done everything needed to complete the signing of goalkeeper David De Gea from Manchester United before Monday's midnight deadline and hinted that the English club were to blame for the deal's failure. Spain goalkeeper De Gea was all set to join Real but is now…

    Reuters59 mins ago
  • Video of Israeli soldier arresting boy becomes latest in war of perception

    A soldier pins a boy down and is assaulted by his family: The scene might have gone unnoticed if not for footage that has turned it into another weapon in the Israel-Palestinian war of perception. Palestinians see it as proof of Israel's abuses in the occupied West Bank, while many Israelis say the…

    AFP
  • Sheriff: Suspect kills mother, stepfather, grandmother

    Outfitted in camouflage and armed with a high-powered rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition, Robert Seth Denton fatally shot his mother, stepfather and grandmother while six children witnessed the carnage in the family's double-wide mobile home in eastern Tennessee, a sheriff said Monday.

    Associated Press
  • Migrants protest as Hungary shutters Budapest train station

    By Krisztina Than BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hundreds of angry migrants demonstrated outside Budapest's shuttered Eastern Railway Terminus on Tuesday, demanding that they be allowed to travel on to Germany, as a migration crisis put the European Union's rules under unprecedented strain. Hungarian…

    Reuters
  • View

    Kentucky county clerk refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses (26 photos)

    Gay couples in a Kentucky county are expected at the courthouse door Tuesday morning after the Supreme Court ruled against a defiant clerk who has refused to hand out marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court ruled against the county clerk who refused to issue gay marriage licenses,…

    Yahoo News
  • Investigators: Arizona woman acknowledges drowning twin sons

    PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona woman told investigators that she drowned her 2-year-old twin sons and tried to kill her 3-year-old stepbrother in the same way because she didn't want them to live with the difficulties she faces.

    Associated Press
  • Daughter Deep In Debt Needs Counseling, Not More Money

    DEAR ABBY: Three years ago I gave my adult daughter, married with a child, more than $16,000 to help pay off her debts because she couldn't pay her bills. She and her husband maintain separate accounts, which I find odd. He pays certain expenses; she pays others. Now I find she's deep in debt again…

    Dear Abby
  • This versatile 15-in-1 Travel Jacket is Kickstarter’s most funded piece of clothing at $7.2M

    Remember the MacGyver Travel Jacket that has 15 compartments that each have their own designated functions? It turns out that so many people loved the idea of having such a “smart” jacket that the project became the most funded piece of clothing in Kickstarter history, topping $7.2 million in…

    BGR News
  • With help, small island states ditch diesel for cheaper, cleaner energy

    By Megan Rowling BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After oil prices hit a record high in July 2008, the tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands was forced to declare an economic emergency since around 90 percent of its energy needs were met by imported petroleum products. The fuel price…

    Reuters
  • Obama slams 'completely unacceptable' cop killing

    President Barack Obama vowed Monday to push for police officer safety after a Texas sheriff's deputy was gunned down from behind and shot multiple times at close range. Darren Goforth, 47, was killed late Friday in the Houston area, and local officials have blamed ramped-up rhetoric against police…

    AFP
  • View

    The back alleys of one of America’s most dangerous cities (31 photos)

    High-tech policing and a renewed focus on community-officer partnerships are helping to bring calm to Camden, N.J., but it hasn’t been a cure-all. The impoverished town of 77,000 is still the most violent and crime-plagued city in the Garden State. A local policeman recently took Yahoo News…

    Yahoo News
  • All eyes on Manchester United as deadline day dawns

    Manchester United were the centre of attention as the Premier League's transfer deadline day dawned on Tuesday, with moves involving David de Gea and Anthony Martial awaiting completion. Goalkeeper De Gea had appeared on the brink of a move to Real Madrid worth between 30 million ($33.8 million)…

    AFP
  • CERN: Test results show more detail about 'God particle'

    GENEVA (AP) — After three years of scrutinizing the elusive Higgs boson closely, scientists say they've determined that the "God particle" behaves just as predicted.

    Associated Press
  • Big guns in east Ukraine fall silent, two more die from wounds in Kiev protests

    Sporadic shelling and shooting, which each side has blamed on the other, had ensured a steadily mounting death toll despite the ceasefire called as part of a peace plan worked out in Minsk, Belarus, in February. More than 6,500 people have been killed since a separatist rebellion erupted there in…

    Reuters