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Appeals Court Revives Business' Contraceptive Coverage Lawsuit; Pittsburgh Diocese's Case Dismissed

Appeals Court Revives Business' Contraceptive Coverage Lawsuit; Pittsburgh Diocese's Case Dismissed

November 29, 2012 — The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday granted a "stay pending appeal" in a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) contraceptive coverage rules, overturning a lower court's denial of the plaintiff's request for an injunction, Politico Pro reports (Haberkorn, Politico Pro, 11/28).

The suit involves Frank O'Brien, who is Catholic, and his business, O'Brien Industrial Holdings, which is a secular company. O'Brien argues that the requirement that his business offer contraceptive coverage to its employees is unconstitutional because it infringes on his religious beliefs.

In October, U.S. District Court Judge Carole Jackson dismissed the suit. She wrote in her ruling, "This Court rejects the proposition that requiring indirect financial support of a practice, from which plaintiff himself abstains according to his religious principles, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiff's religious exercise" (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/2).

O'Brien had asked the appeals court for a preliminary injunction, but his lawyers said the stay essentially amounts to one.

According to Politico Pro, the court still must rule on the case's legal questions of whether the contraceptive coverage rules violate religious freedom (Politico Pro, 11/28).

Judge Dismisses Pittsburgh Diocese's Suit; Similar Case Pending

In related news, U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry on Tuesday dismissed the Pittsburgh Catholic diocese's lawsuit against the contraceptive coverage rules, the AP/Columbus Republic reports.

In his opinion, McVerry wrote the federal government is in the process of addressing the religious objections raised in the suit. He noted that the diocese has not been harmed by the rules but that it could sue at a later date if the Obama administration does not satisfy its concerns (AP/Columbus Republic, 11/28).

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin is expected to rule soon on a similar case involving the Erie, Pa., diocese. The Erie case and the Pittsburgh case share the same lawyers and make similar arguments against the contraceptive coverage rules.

Bradley Humphreys, the Department of Justice lawyer in both cases, is making the same argument in the Erie case that was successful in Pittsburgh, which is that the suit should be dismissed because it is premature (Palattella, Erie Times-News, 11/29).