A federal district court in Pennsylvania has rejected the Obama administration’s efforts to impose mandatory insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including abortifacients, on Catholic dioceses and nonprofits including a Catholic high school.
U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab granted an injunction to Erie Catholic Preparatory School—together with the Catholic Dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie and several affiliated nonprofit groups—to continue to offer employee health insurance that does not violate their sincerely held religious beliefs while litigation continues, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It is the first preliminary injunction awarded to a religious nonprofit to halt the HHS mandate since the Obama administration issued its final and very narrow religious exemption on June 28.
“This ruling echoes what Catholics and other religious leaders have been saying all along, that it is a contradiction to exempt only churches but not religious nonprofits from a law that forces them to act against their deeply held beliefs,” said Patrick J. Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society. “Catholic schools, colleges and other apostolates must not be excluded from religious protections.”
The Affordable Care Act would require organizations to provide health insurance coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization in their employee health insurance plans or pay unreasonable and prohibitive fines if they do not comply.
However, Judge Schwab has made a decision that will allow nonprofit organizations like Erie Prep, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Prince of Peace Center near Erie to continue to operate as normal—at least for the time being. He wrote in his 65-page opinion that he believes that religious employers, which “were born from the same faith” and “operate as extensions and embodiments of the Church” should be treated as the same as the “Church itself with respect to the free exercise of that religion.”
This decision is only the second made by a court in favor of religious nonprofits under the Affordable Care Act’s “final rule,” and the first made in favor of Catholic institutions. The article’s author foresees that this ruling “could set the tone in a legal fight of national scope.”
Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said that he was “relieved” and emphasized his dedication to the cause of religious liberty. He told the Post-Gazette, “This is an absolutely critical decision. If it has to go to the Supreme Court, I'm moving with it all the way.”
Last week, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik and Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico were reported as saying that they would not comply with the mandate. Persico testified that signing the document would cause the church to cooperate in the provision of “immoral services.” He said “I don’t see how we could do it,” according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
This decision is expected to be appealed to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.
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