January 10, 2013 — The Diocese of Nashville and seven other area Catholic institutions recently appealed a federal court's decision to dismiss their lawsuit challenging the federal contraceptive coverage requirements, USA Today reports (Smietana, USA Today, 1/9).
The plaintiffs in the case included the Nashville diocese, 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. They argued that the contraceptive coverage rules violate their Catholic beliefs.
However, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee ruled in November that the groups lack standing to challenge the federal contraceptive coverage rules because they have not been harmed by the regulations. The court also noted that HHS is in the process of amending the rules for faith-based groups.
The rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), 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, 11/26/12).
Details of Appeal
Rick Musacchio, a spokesperson for the diocese, argued that religious not-for-profits should also be exempt from the contraceptive coverage rules because the groups are motivated by faith. He noted that employees may still use contraception as long as they pay for it themselves. "We don't object to the availability of birth control. We do object to having to pay for it," he said.
The plaintiffs are optimistic that their appeal will succeed because of favorable rulings in similar cases, USA Today reports. Recently, a federal court in New York ruled that the local diocese could be potentially harmed by the requirement.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, argued that religiously affiliated groups still have to abide by federal law. "It is not about religious liberty. It is about ensuring that women employees are treated fairly and that women have access to a full range of health care services," Weinberg said (USA Today, 1/9).