SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The University of Notre Dame on
Tuesday filed another lawsuit opposing portions of the federal health care
overhaul that forces it to provide health insurance for students and
employees that includes birth control, saying it contravenes the teachings
of the Roman Catholic Church.
filed in U.S. District Court in South Bend claims the Affordable Health
Care Act violates Notre Dame's freedom to practice religion without
government interference. Under the law, employers must provide insurance
that covers a range of preventive care, free of charge, including
contraception. The Catholic Church prohibits the use of contraceptives.
challenges a compromise, or accomodations, offered by the Obama
administration that attempted to create a buffer for religiously
affiliated hospitals, universities and social service groups that oppose
birth control. The law requires insurers or the health plan's outside
administrator to pay for birth control coverage and creates a way to
The Rev. John
Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, said that wasn't enough.
government's accommodations would require us to forfeit our rights, to
facilitate and become entangled in a program inconsistent with Catholic
teaching and to create the impression that the university cooperates with
and condones activities incompatible with its mission," he said in a
says in the lawsuit that its employee health plans are self-insured,
covering about 4,600 employees and a total of about 11,000 people. Its
student health plans cover about 2,600 students. The lawsuit says the
health plans do not cover abortion-inducing products, contraceptives or
government mandate, therefore, requires Notre Dame to do precisely what
its sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit — pay for, facilitate access
to, and/or become entangled in the provision of objectionable products and
services or else incur crippling sanctions," the lawsuit says.
argues that the fines of $2,000 per employee if it eliminates its employee
health plan, or $100 a day for each affected beneficiary if it refuses to
provide or facilitate the coverage, would coerce it into violating its
an Indiana University professor of law and adjunct professor of religious
studies, said Notre Dame's arguments are similar those in a case last
month where a federal judge in Pennsylvania granted the Pittsburgh and
Erie Catholic dioceses a delay in complying with the federal mandates.
administration argues that the burden on the Catholic entities is minimal,
Conkle said. Notre Dame and other Catholic groups say it's substantial.
director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at
Catholic University of America, said the administration's accommodations
"are sufficient to protect the Catholic conscience for administrators of
these plans at Catholic universities." But he said the lawsuits were still
accommodations "really rest on the good graces of the administration and
those good graces could disappear with a new administration," he said.
argues that it is not seeking to impose its religious beliefs on others,
but that it just wants to protect its right to the free exercise of its
religion. The lawsuit argues that the government could pay for
contraception through the expansion of its existing network of family
planning clinics or by creating a broader exemption for religious
filed a similar lawsuit in May 2012. U.S. District Judge Robert Miller Jr.
dismissed that case last December, saying the university wasn't facing any
imminent penalty or restrictions because the federal government was
reworking some of the coverage regulations.
Supreme Court recently agreed to consider two cases in which business have
objected to covering birth control for employees on religious grounds.
Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned arts and crafts chain with 13,000 full-time
employees, won its case in lower courts, while Conestoga Wood Specialties,
a Mennonite-owned company that employs 950 people in making wood cabinets,
lost its claims in lower courts.
for-profit companies have requested an exemption from covering some or all
forms of contraception.