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Latching On to ‘Little Sisters’ Order, Notre Dame Asks Court to Block Contraceptive Mandate

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Although the university was granted a religious accommodation and is exempt from complying with the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate, it wants a federal court to block the mandate anyway.

The University of Notre Dame is once again trying to get a court order that allows it to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover comprehensive preventive health care, including birth control.

The latest request came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court extended an injunction for the Little Sisters of the Poor, a religiously affiliated nonprofit that runs assisted care facilities. The Little Sisters challenged the exemption process under the birth control benefit in the health-care reform law that allows organizations that are religiously affiliated but not houses of worship to claim an exemption on religious grounds.

In its renewed request for an injunction, Notre Dame argues that the Supreme Court’s order in the Little Sisters case is reason enough to grant the school a reprieve while its lawsuit challenging the mandate proceeds. The university had sought an identical order last year, but the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected its request. Since then, Notre Dame has continued with its lawsuit challenging the mandate and exemption process as unconstitutional, but has also complied with the law and completed the required paperwork to qualify for the exemption under it. That means that the company that administers health insurance for the university will contact staff and students interested in insurance coverage for contraception directly and arrange that coverage without the university’s further involvement or expense.

This latest request is not the only movement in the case. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court granted a request by three university students to intervene in the university’s lawsuit and challenge the school’s attempts to evade the law. The students’ intervention in the lawsuit marks the first time women affected by corporate attempts to block the mandate and the lawsuit have had their interests represented in the legal challenges. Ayesha Kahn, an attorney at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents the students, explained to Rewire why the organization believes the injunction should be denied. “The Little Sisters case presents an entirely different set of facts because there would be no coverage there whether or not the accommodation is pursued,” Kahn explained. “Also, it would be very disruptive for the court to issue an injunction pending appeal right now, because Notre Dame’s third-party administrator has already offered contraceptive coverage to employees.”

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The Obama administration has until February 4 to respond to the university’s latest motion. Arguments in the matter are scheduled to go before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on February 12.

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