December 4, 2013 — The University of Notre Dame on Tuesday filed a new lawsuit arguing that the federal contraceptive coverage rules infringe on the institution's religious views, the Chicago Tribune reports (Brachear Pashman, Chicago Tribune, 12/3).
The contraceptive coverage rules, implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most employers to offer the 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, 11/25).
The university had first filed suit against the requirements in May 2012, but the case was dismissed because the Obama administration was still finalizing the rules.
New Case Details
The university filed the latest lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.
The suit asserts that the university, like houses of worship, should be completely exempt from the rules. It argues that the government cannot impose any rules on the institution that violate its Roman Catholic values.
In the suit, Notre Dame states that its concerns are "not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception" but are "about one of America's most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one's religion without government interference" (Chicago Tribune, 12/3). The university claims that the administration's accommodation still forces the school to comply with practices it views as immoral and that the requirements are tantamount to making the institution condone birth control and its acquisition.
In an interview on Monday, Notre Dame President the Rev. John Jenkins said he had met with Obama administration officials several times to try to find a more acceptable accommodation. He said, "The administration has been good to us. We got a hearing, we presented our views, and they weren't able to accommodate us" (Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 12/3).
Jenkins said the administration's accommodation does not go far enough for religiously affiliated employers, adding that the requirements "pu[t] a burden on our religious practice" (Chicago Tribune, 12/3).
According to the Journal, HHS and the Department of Justice declined to comment on the pending litigation. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other administration officials have stated previously that the accommodation both respects religious concerns and ensures women can access contraception (Wall Street Journal, 12/3).