Obamacare Injunction Denied to Philly Diocese
(CN) - A federal judge denied injunctive relief to Catholic charities in Philadelphia that are challenging the so-called contraception mandate in the new health care reform law.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia and 17 of its organizations sued the Obama administration and demanded an injunction to the women's preventive health care regulations of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 last month.
"The church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception, sexual union should be reserved to committed marital relationships in which husband and wife are open to the transmission of life, and, therefore, artificial interference with life and conception are contrary to core beliefs," its lawsuit said.
Noting the church's opposition to "facilitating the use of contraceptive services" or "associat[ing] in any way with the provision of contraceptive services," the archdiocese said that the health insurance it has provided to more than 4,000 employees through a self-insured Independence Blue Cross "church plan" contained an exemption from the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.
The plan, which expired on June 30, did "not offer coverage for contraceptives," except when prescribed for "non-contraceptive, medical purposes," according to the complaint.
Though the church alleged that Obamacare's requirements violated its rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter denied it an injunction June 26.
"There is no evidence in the record to support plaintiffs' speculation that Independence Blue Cross will provide contraceptive services to the participants and beneficiaries of plaintiffs' self-insured plan simply because doing so would make Independence Blue Cross eligible to receive a government benefit," Buckwalter wrote. "It is equally conceivable that Independence Blue Cross would conclude that it is in its overall economic interest to forego the government benefit and continue to adhere to the wishes of its client."
Were the archdiocese to deliver to Independence Blue Cross an Employee Benefits Security Administration Form 700 in order to self-certify as an eligible organization, that would not create a "vital link" toward providing contraceptive services, the ruling states.
"The execution and delivery of the form does not 'trigger' contraceptive coverage, nor does it 'deprive [plaintiffs] of the freedom to speak out about abortion and contraception on their own terms,'" Buckwalter wrote. "While the government may not compel speech where 'an individual is obliged personally to express a message he disagrees with,' if the government has compelled any speech here, it is only compelling plaintiffs to make a statement with which they agree, i.e., that they oppose coverage for contraceptives."
Claim regarding the church's free exercise rights under the First Amendment fail as well, the court found.
"Regardless of whether an organization is exempt from the contraceptive mandate because it has fewer than 50 full-time employees, because its health plan was 'grandfathered,' or because it is an eligible organization with a religious opposition to contraceptives, the exemptions to the contraceptive mandate are equally available to religious and secular organizations," Buckwalter wrote.
The judge later added: "The contraceptive mandate is rationally related to the government's legitimate interest in advancing public health and gender equality."
Days after the ruling was published, the Supreme Court found that the mandate, as applied to closely held, for-profit businesses, violates the RFRA.