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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Catholic Nonprofit Workers|Can Get Contraceptives

(CN) - A Roman Catholic nonprofit cannot challenge contraceptive coverage made available to its employees by the insurance issuer, because it does not pay for the coverage directly, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, in the District of Columbia, ruled Dec. 20 in Priests for Life's complaint against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Priests for Life says its mission is to "unite and encourage all clergy to give special emphasis to the life issues in their ministry... [and] to help them take a more vocal active role in the pro-life movement."

Under the Affordable Care Act, nonprofit religious organizations are not required to provide contraceptive coverage to employees.

The "Obamacare" law allows a nonprofit to self-certify that it has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services, to qualify for an exemption.

Contraceptive coverage is then excluded from the employer's benefits, and the nonprofit cannot be charged any -payments, deductibles, fees, or other related costs.

However, employees may still receive contraceptive coverage.

An insurance issuer may directly provide contraceptive services to the employee, and will assume the full cost of the coverage.

Priests for Life objected "to being forced by the government to purchase a health care plan that provides its employees with access to contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients, all of which are prohibited by its religious convictions. This is true whether the immoral services are paid for directly, indirectly, or even not at all by Priests for Life."

But Judge Sullivan dismissed the complaint, finding that "acts of third parties, which do not cause adherents to act in violation of their religious beliefs, do not constitute an impermissible burden."

Priests for Life did not object to the self-certification itself, which only requires them to fill out a form, and is the only requirement the Affordable Care Act places on the nonprofit.

"There is no doubt that the plaintiffs find the statute's requirement that the issuer provide contraceptive coverage profoundly opposed to their religious scruples. But the issuer's provision of coverage is just that - an entirely third party act. The issuer's provision of coverage does not require plaintiffs to 'perform acts' at odds with their beliefs," Sullivan wrote.

This case differs from the challenges to the Affordable Care Act headed to the Supreme Court next year, because it involves a nonprofit that is not required to pay directly for contraceptive coverage.

In its next session, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius regarding whether closely held for-profit companies whose owners are religiously opposed to contraception can be forced to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees.

This issue has deeply divided federal circuit courts.

The 3rd and 6th Circuits have refused to exempt such businesses from the mandate, finding that corporations "cannot engage in religious exercise."

But the 10th, 7th and D.C. Circuits have stated: "There is nothing inherently incompatible between religious exercise and profit-seeking," and ruled that religious business owners cannot be forced to violate their faith by the mandate.

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