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Justice Dept. Outlines Case Against Contraceptive Coverage Exemption for Pittsburgh Catholic Charities

Justice Dept. Outlines Case Against Contraceptive Coverage Exemption for Pittsburgh Catholic Charities

October 31, 2013 — Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh should not receive a temporary injunction exempting it from the federal contraceptive coverage rules, the Department of Justice argued in a court filing on Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports (Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/30).

The rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most employers to offer contraceptive coverage to their workers. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, and religiously affiliated not-for-profits are eligible for an accommodation that ensures they do not have to pay for or directly provide the coverage to their employees. Private companies are not eligible for an exemption or accommodation (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/29).

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh in filings processed earlier this month asked U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab to block the federal government from enforcing the mandate and permanently exempt it from having to comply. The diocese contends that the accommodation for religiously affiliated employers does not address the organizations' concerns because it "still results in the provision of coverage for abortion-inducing products, contraception, sterilization and related counseling," according to the suit. Specifically, the suit claims the rules violate the diocese's First Amendment rights and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141) (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/9).

DOJ's Response

In the DOJ filing, attorney Brad Humphreys argued that the organization can alert its insurance administrator of its objection to offering contraceptive coverage. The administrator will then provide the coverage to employees at no charge. He said that complying with the rules will not harm the organization, but not complying could harm its employees.

"Many of Catholic Charities's employees may not share plaintiffs' religious beliefs. Those employees should not be deprived of the benefits of payments provided by a third party that is not their employer for the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive services," Humphreys wrote (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/30). He noted that the organization would have to tell its insurer that it did not want to provide the coverage, even if there were no federal rules, so it cannot claim it is facing an extra burden.

Schwab has scheduled hearings for Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 (Bowling, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 10/30).