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Tenn. Catholic Institutions File Latest Suit Over Contraceptive Coverage Rules

Tenn. Catholic Institutions File Latest Suit Over Contraceptive Coverage Rules

September 14, 2012 — The Diocese of Nashville and seven other Catholic institutions in the area on Wednesday filed a lawsuit challenging the federal contraceptive coverage rules being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), AP/The Tennessean reports.

The plaintiffs include Aquinas College, Catholic Charities, Father Ryan High School, Pope John Paul II High School, child care provider St. Mary Villa, and senior housing providers Mary Queen of Angels and Villa Maria Manor (Wadhwani, AP/The Tennessean, 9/13).

The contraceptive coverage rules require health plans issued or renewed after Aug. 1 to cover contraceptive services without copayments or deductibles. HHS has given religiously affiliated entities, such as colleges and hospitals, a one-year delay period to come into compliance, and religious institutions, such as churches and synagogues, are exempt altogether (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/13).

Court filings by the Ohio-based Jones Day law firm on behalf of the plaintiffs argue that requiring them to "support, pay for, provide, and/or facilitate abortion, sterilization, or the use of contraceptives" is in violation of Catholic doctrine. Particularly, the suit objects to the inclusion of emergency contraception, which the plaintiffs consider abortion.

Contraceptives are "freely available in the [U.S.], and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available," the suit states. "[T]he right to such services does not authorize the Government to force the Plaintiffs to violate their own consciences by making them provide, pay for, and/or facilitate those services to others," it adds.

The diocese decided to move forward with the suit after Mary Queen of Angels, St. Mary Villa and Villa Maria Manor -- which share a health plan -- found out that they would be affected by the federal rules immediately, according to diocese Director of Communications Rick Musacchio. The three institutions learned late last year that, unbeknownst to them, their plan covered oral contraceptives. When they asked the insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee, to remove the coverage, they were told it had to be included because of the federal rules.

The other plaintiffs will face the same situation when their plans renew next year, according to Musacchio.

The suit follows more than two dozen other legal challenges to the contraceptive coverage rules, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. While three of these cases have been dismissed, the rest are pending in court (AP/The Tennessean, 9/13).