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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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Church leaders welcome leaked HHS draft lifting contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

 

WASHINGTON — A leaked draft rule from the Department of Health and Human Services exempting religious groups from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act was welcomed by church officials and attorneys representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the groups that challenged the mandate at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said in a June 1 statement that the leaked draft has “yet to be formally issued and will require close study upon publication,” but it provides encouraging news.

“Relief like this is years overdue and would be most welcomed,” he said. Read more »

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Federal judge blocks HHS transgender regulation

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AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge in Texas Dec. 31 blocked a regulation by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring Catholic hospitals and health care providers to perform or provide gender transition services, saying it would place “substantial pressure” on the plaintiffs, a coalition of religious medical organizations who said the ruling was contrary to their religious beliefs.

“Plaintiffs will be forced to either violate their religious beliefs or maintain their current policies, which seem to be in direct conflict with the rule and risk the severe consequences of enforcement,” U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote.

The injunction comes four months after the same judge blocked a federal directive requiring public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

The regulation from the Department of Health and Human Services requires that Catholic hospitals and health care providers perform or provide gender transition services, hormonal treatments and counseling as well as a host of surgeries that would remove or transform the sexual organs of men or women transitioning to the other gender. The HHS regulation requires group health plans to cover these procedures and services.

In the suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Wichita Falls, the Washington-based Becket Fund represented two groups against the new government regulation: Franciscan Alliance, a religious hospital network sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration and the Christian Medical and Dental Association. The states of Texas, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska and Wisconsin also joined in the suit.

“This court ruling is an across-the-board victory that will ensure that deeply personal medical decisions, such as gender transition procedures, remain between families and their doctor,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket Law.

She also said the judge’s decision was “a common-sense ruling” noting that the government “has no business forcing private doctors to perform procedures that the government itself recognizes can be harmful, particularly to children, and that the government exempts its own doctors from performing.”

A similar lawsuit was filed against the HHS ruling Dec. 28 by the Catholic Benefits Association, the Diocese of Fargo and Catholic Charities North Dakota in U.S. District Court in North Dakota.

“We ask only for the freedom to serve consistent with our conscience and our Catholic faith,” Bishop John T. Folda of Fargo said in a statement, released by the Catholic Benefits Association. “While we do not discriminate against individuals because of their orientation, our Catholic values will not permit us to pay for or facilitate actions that are contrary to our faith.”

The Catholic Benefits Association is made up of Catholic dioceses, hospitals, school systems, religious orders and other entities that offer their employees insurance and benefit programs that adhere to Catholic teaching.

The regulation, which also mandates abortions be performed, affects health insurers, hospitals and health plans administered by or receiving federal funds from HHS. There is no religious exemption.

The final HHS regulation was published in May. It applies to implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which provides that individuals cannot be subject to discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability.       

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Crowd outside Supreme Court rallies against federal contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In the end, the women religious decided it would be good to sing after all.

That wasn’t on the agenda for the sunny 90-minute rally in front of the Supreme Court March 23 in support of the plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell. But it had a calming effect, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor, speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23 after attending oral arguments in the Zubik v. Burwell contraceptive mandate case. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor, speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23 after attending oral arguments in the Zubik v. Burwell contraceptive mandate case. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

There were several spontaneous renditions of “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” “God Bless America” and “God Bless the USA” from the Little Sisters of the Poor and groups of Dominican and Carmelite sisters.

At the end of the rally, Mother Regina Marie Gorman of the Carmelite Sisters of Los Angeles, who delivered the closing prayer, decided, with a big smile, that it would be apt for all the Catholics to chant the Marian antiphon “Salve Regina,” traditionally sung after evening prayers.

It was a serene conclusion to an orderly rally punctuated with chants of “Let them serve!” as the court heard oral arguments in the case brought by several Catholic and other faith-based entities against the federal government’s requirement that most employers, including religious employers, cover contraceptives for their workers.

The Denver-based Little Sisters, who operate nursing homes for the elderly poor, and 36 other groups are contesting the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the case has an uncertain future with the possibility of a 4-4 court deadlock, which means the rulings of the circuit courts, all but one of which have gone against the plaintiffs, will be upheld.

The Department of Health and Human Services has offered an “accommodation,” also known as a “work-around,” that allows objecting employers to acknowledge their opposition to contraceptive coverage by notifying HHS in a letter. This allows a third party to provide the coverage. The Little Sisters and other plaintiffs object to that, calling it a burden on their free exercise of religion, because they are still involved in allowing coverage they find objectionable.

“Today the Little Sisters make their last stand,” said Mother Mary Assumpta Long of the Dominican Sisters of Mary in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“Filling out a piece of paper is not the issue. Complicity is wrong and it is wrong in itself, and the government cannot make this otherwise.”

“The Supreme Court,” she continued, “is no the arbiter of sacred Scriptures.”

“Our request is not uniquely Catholic or religious. It’s American,” said Elise Italiano, executive director of communications for The Catholic University of America, another plaintiff.

On March 2, a rally of more than 3,000 participants surrounded and attempted to drown out a pro-life rally of about 200 during oral arguments on a Texas abortion law. This time, the proportions were reversed.

A competing rally organized by the National Women’s Law Center, the American Humanist Association and Catholics for Choice, among other groups, had many fewer participants than the several hundred who turned out in support of the Little Sisters and the other plaintiffs, including Oklahoma Wesleyan University, East Texas Baptist University, Southern Nazarene University and Geneva College, a Presbyterian institution, and the Archdiocese of Washington, the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania and Priests for Life.

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Analysis: Facts lost in the myths surrounding HHS contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

Exaggerations and misrepresentations about the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate have been appearing in White House “fact sheets” and mainstream media. Here are some of the more frequently cited claims and the facts to counter them: Read more »

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Obama said to seek balance on health plans, religious beliefs

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A White House spokesman said the Obama administration is working to “strike the right balance between expanding coverage of preventive services and respecting religious beliefs” as it decides on a religious exemption to the mandate that all health plans cover contraceptives and sterilizations by Jan. 1, 2013.

“This decision has not yet been made,” said Jay Carney, press secretary, in response to a question at the Nov. 29 White House press briefing.

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