October 9, 2013 — The Catholic Dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, along with at least seven other dioceses and three other archdioceses, have individually filed lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) contraceptive coverage rules, which the federal government finalized in June, TribLive reports (Bowling, TribLive, 10/8).
The rules 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, 10/4).
Pittsburgh Diocese Suit
The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh in filings processed Tuesday asked U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab to block the federal government from enforcing the mandate and permanently exempt the dioceses from having to comply. The Pittsburgh diocese filed a similar suit in 2012, but U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry dismissed the case because the federal government at that time had not finalized the rules.
In the latest suit, the diocese contends that the accommodation for religiously affiliated employers is "empty words" because the "organization's decision to offer a group health plan 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 rights under the First Amendment and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141).
Diocese Communications Director Robert Lockwood added that the contraceptive coverage requirement effectively means, "Religious freedom is only a freedom to worship [and] not a freedom to act on your beliefs." He said the diocese will argue that the mandate draws "an artificial and dangerous" line between houses of worship and the charities and educational services they provide.
HHS has not yet commented on the lawsuit (TribLive, 10/8).
Erie Diocese Suit
The Catholic Diocese of Erie also filed suit against the mandate on Tuesday in U.S. District Court, arguing that it violates its First Amendment rights and asking the court to stop the federal government from enforcing the law, the Erie Times-News reports.
The diocese's original suit against the rules was dismissed last year by a federal judge, who ruled that the diocese could file suit again if it found the final rules unsatisfactory once they were released.
The diocese in its latest suit contends that the "government ignored the views of religious organizations ... by promulgating a final rule that is more damaging than the initial regulations."
Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico in a statement said, "This lawsuit defends the free exercise of religion without government interference," adding, "If the government can order us to violate our conscience, what comes next?" (Palattella, Erie Times-News, 10/8).