News Law and Policy

‘Priests for Life’ Sues to Block Birth Control Coverage Compromise

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Now that the Obama administration's final rule on contraception coverage is in place, religious nonprofits are renewing their legal challenges to it.

On Monday, the American Freedom Law Center filed a lawsuit by a Catholic nonprofit challenging the recently announced final compromise for religiously affiliated nonprofits such as hospitals and universities that object to the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Priests for Life, an international Catholic organization; its national director, Father Frank Pavone; pastoral associate and director of African-American outreach, Alveda King, niece of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.; and the group’s executive director, Janet Morana. The lawsuit alleges that the new regulations violate the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by forcing faith-based organizations to violate their sincerely held beliefs and offer insurance coverage for contraception and other family planning health services to employees. The lawsuit renews claims previously filed on behalf of Priests for Life, which had been dismissed in April because the Obama administration’s proposed compromise was not yet final.

According to the complaint, Priests for Life is “morally prohibited based on its sincerely held religious convictions from cooperating with evil.” As stated in the complaint:

Priests for Life objects 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. Contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients are immoral regardless of their cost. And Priests for Life objects to the government forcing it into a moral dilemma with regard to its relationship with its employees and its very survival as an effective, pro-life organization.

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American Freedom Law Center Co-Founder Robert Muise, who represents the plaintiffs, said in a statement, “Despite his rhetoric about protecting the right of conscience, President Obama continues his war against religious liberty in order to promote his progressive, liberal agenda. Indeed, progressive liberals view pregnancy as a disease to be ‘prevented’ by contraception or ‘cured’ by abortion. However, by forcing religious organizations to participate in this culture of death agenda, the Obama administration is violating a core freedom enshrined in the Bill of Rights.”

Since the final rule was issued by the Obama administration in late June, eight nonprofits have said that they are not satisfied with the “accommodation” and intend to proceed with their lawsuits or have refiled lawsuits that had been dismissed, including Priests for Life’s latest filing. Of those eight nonprofits who publicly objected and sued, two cases have been dismissed by the district courts as moot, holding that the new rule places no burden on religious exercise rights.

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