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Catholic group presses Trump to end contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Frustrated by federal court inaction and the Department of Justice blocking the way, the Catholic Benefits Association has called on President Trump to intervene directly in the legal battle over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

“This is a problem that’s easily remedied,” Douglas C. Wilson, CBA’s chief executive officer, told Catholic News Service. “It was created by Obama’s regulatory administration and it can be undone by the Trump administration just as easily.”

President Donald Trump prepares to sign his Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during the National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

In an Aug. 18 letter, Wilson asked the Trump administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to stop defending the mandate in court and agree to a permanent injunction protecting the plaintiffs in all cases. The letter also urged the White House to adopt, unchanged, a proposed HHS regulation, submitted in May, to exempt employers with conscientious objections from having to comply with such mandates.

The mandate requires employers to provide coverage for contraception and abortifacients, opposed by Catholic moral teaching, under penalty of fines.

Wilson said he has not yet received anything other than a pro forma White House acknowledgement of the letter.

Asked about it during an Aug. 24 news conference, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, “I’m not sure if (Trump is) aware of the complaints or any specific places where that’s being ignored.”

On May 4, Trump, in a Rose Garden ceremony, announced an executive order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.”

“Your long ordeal will soon be over,” he announced to religious groups that included the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose Supreme Court victory in 2016 was widely considered the beginning of the end of the contraception mandate. “We are ending the attacks on your religious freedom.”

The CBA, based in Castle Rock, Colorado, and representing more than 1,000 Catholic health care providers, has been the largest single plaintiff challenging the mandate. The association first sued HHS in March 2014. CBA members “are facing $6 billion in accumulated penalties should this fail to be resolved,” Wilson said.

In July, the CBA filed a motion with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver asking for affirmation of its 2014 injunction blocking implementation of the mandate. But on July 31, Justice Department lawyers opposed the motion and asked that the appeal be kept alive.

“They cited only some unspecified efforts to reach a regulatory resolution outside of the judicial process, but we have no guarantee that such a resolution will be either timely or sufficient,” Wilson’s letter argued.

HHS Secretary Tom Price “believes that the Little Sisters, 80 Catholic bishops, and hundreds of other religious employers should win their lawsuits. The president likewise has promised the religious employers victory. But for whatever reason, the Justice Department keeps defending Obama’s contraception mandate in court,” Eric Kniffin, a CBA lawyer said.

Wilson added, “It seems that this issue never crosses the finish line.”

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Catholic group asks U.S. government to drop appeal in HHS mandate case

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Catholic Benefits Association has filed a motion with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver over a three-year-old appeal by three Cabinet departments in a case involving the “HHS mandate” that says all employers must provide contraceptive coverage.

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

The association, which counts 1,000 Catholic institutions and privately run companies among its membership, including dioceses and hospitals, filed suit in 2014, seeking elimination of the mandate. The court granted a preliminary injunction because it believed the government’s action violated RFRA.

The government promptly appealed the injunction and since then has asked for several delays to argue its appeal. Defendants in the case are the Cabinet departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services, which issued the mandate in 2012 as part of the Affordable Care Act. 

The CBA wants the court to force the departments to meet a July 31 deadline the court set for them to address the association’s arguments.

In a filing made July 21, the CBA, based in Castle Rock, outside Denver, said the federal government does not need to ask for yet another extension in the matter.

The CBA motion cited four reasons the court should dismiss the appeal: “The parties agree that the mandate substantially burdens religious exercise. The parties agree that the mandate does not further a compelling interest. The parties agree that the departments have less restrictive means of advancing their interests. The parties agree that the mandate is illegal under RFRA,” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Since the preliminary injunction, “the departments have filed status reports in the CBA appeals on 10 separate occasions” — two in 2015, five in 2016 and three thus far this year – “each asking the court to delay ruling on the merits,” said the association’s motion for summary judgment in the case.

“There is a possibility, given the current climate, we agree and we’re going to drop this thing,” CBA executive director Doug Wilson told Catholic News Service, adding his confidence this would happen was “not terribly high.”

“We’re still fighting this despite what’s come out of our own agencies,” Wilson said July 28, referring to the Trump administration, which is seen as friendlier to the CBA’s stance. “It would be very hard to explain that (legal) position, but it’s certainly possible,” he added. “Unfortunately, despite the fact that the court was very clear that they wanted a specific response to our filing and not another request for a time extension, they could come back and say, ‘We’re close to a new regulation, could we please have one more extension?’”

Wilson cited President Donald Trump’s May 4 Rose Garden address at which he unveiled his “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” executive order, when he told members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, another plaintiff fighting the mandate: “Your long ordeal will soon be over. … We are ending the attacks on your religious freedom.”

Almost a month later, on May 31, an HHS draft rule was leaked to the press. The 125-page draft would exempt religious groups from the contraceptive mandate. It still has not been formally issued, the CBA noted. It remained under final review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget, according to the office’s website.

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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