birth control

OBAMACARE: Catholic institution denied religious exemption

A federal appeals court has denied Notre Dame’s request for an exemption from the Obamacare mandate, which requires the Catholic university to provide contraceptives – some of which may be abortifacients – to its employees.

In the two-to-one ruling last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denied any religious exemption for the university. Religious organizations have doggedly protested the Health and Human Services mandate, part of Obamacare’s Affordable Care Act, in courts across the country. This recent ruling has been seen as a huge blow to those efforts.

“This marked the first time that a federal appeals court had rejected a claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling last June in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores should shield a non-profit religious organization from any role whatsoever in carrying out the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate,” Lyle Denniston of SCOTUS blog wrote.

The ruling has frustrated Notre Dame alumni and others who see it as an infringement on strongly held religious beliefs.

“The 7th Circuit majority was just plain wrong in its application of  Hobby Lobby,” William Dempsey, chairman of the alumnus Sycamore Trust donor group, told The College Fix in a telephone interview.

“The Supreme Court said courts have to accept a plaintiff’s sincere claim of conscience, though the plaintiff could still lose if the public interest demanded it, but the court of appeals simply said to Notre Dame in effect, ‘You may feel that way but you shouldn’t,’” Dempsey said. “Still, the Supreme Court may not take this or any other case for review until some court of appeals rules against the government. So far, none have.” NotreDame2.KateHardiman

The Obamacare mandate requires all employer health plans to provide free contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs. The mandate provides an extremely narrow exemption for “religious employers,” which fails to cover most faith-based organizations including Catholic hospitals, universities, and service organizations.

To meet the exemption qualifications, religious employers must hire and serve exclusively people of their own faith, qualify as a church or religious order as defined by the tax code, and exist for the purpose of inculcating religious doctrine. With that, religious universities and business owners have had limited successes with their legal challenges.

Last June, the Supreme Court issued a major ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on the contraception mandate, stating that the federal regulation cannot be applied to “closely held corporations” if their owners object on religious grounds. Following this case, the court of appeals reconsidered Notre Dame’s plea for exemption, after the trial court denied Notre Dame’s request that the Obamacare mandate requirement be suspended pending the trial.

In his dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Joel Flaum stated that “because Notre Dame offers health insurance to its students, and especially because it acts as a self-insurer for its employees, the law turns Notre Dame into a conduit for the provision of cost-free contraception…Notre Dame’s only alternative is to endure crippling fines.”

Yet alumni groups such as Sycamore Trust have been critical of the way Notre Dame itself handled the lawsuit against the Health and Human Services mandate from the beginning.

In its denial of relief, the trial court mentioned that Notre Dame’s delay in legally challenging the mandate was “a little hard to swallow.” President Rev. John Jenkins and the administration had told employees just two months prior to filing the lawsuit that they would be receiving free contraceptives. Citing “competitive necessity,” Notre Dame also provided a contraceptive and abortifacient plan to students following the mandate after considering the health plans of other major universities.

Dennis Brown, Notre Dame’s assistant vice president for university communications, did not respond to The College Fix’s request for comment. As of today, Notre Dame has released no official statement about the 7th circuit’s ruling.

College Fix reporter Kate Hardiman is a student at the University of Notre Dame.

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IMAGES: Kate Hardiman


The Penn Democrats wrote an op-ed in defense of “reproductive rights” for the Daily Pennsylvanian, arguing that women have the right to employer-paid abortion drugs and that abortion-clinic safety rules are “unnecessary.” Fair enough.

But these defenders of bodily integrity make a curious case for their contention that America’s abortion laws are “decades behind many other countries”:

While European countries provide free access to contraceptives and encourage comprehensive sex education, in America, women’s health care autonomy is limited by the religious and moral views of others.

The Penn Democrats are either woefully ignorant of Europe’s abortion laws or masters of omission, because America is far more permissive of abortion than most of Europe.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Cynthia Allen made this point in a Tuesday column on the Texas governor’s race, pitting pro-life Republican Greg Abbott against Democrat Wendy Davis, who made her name on a filibuster of a Texas bill to ban late-term abortions:

In Western Europe — a bastion of liberalism that many progressive policymakers look to with admiration — abortion laws are far more restrictive than those in the U.S.

In Germany, women seeking first-trimester abortions are subject to a mandatory three-day waiting period and a counseling session. Abortions after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are forbidden except in cases of grave threat to the mother’s physical or mental health. France’s laws are similar.

Other nations like the Netherlands, which requires a five-day wait, and the United Kingdom make abortion illegal after viability, generally considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks.

Davis’ absolutist position on abortion puts her to the left of the Netherlands, home of legalized prostitution, marijuana bars and physician-assisted suicide.

Are the Penn Democrats saying they’d rather have stricter laws on surgical abortion in tandem with wide access to birth control? Probably not, because then they would sound like Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in the Colorado Senate race.

Read the Daily Pennsylvanian op-ed.

CORRECTION: The original article incorrectly said Rep. Cory Gardner was a candidate in the Colorado governor’s race. He is a candidate in the Senate race. The article has been updated to reflect this.

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Telling the government rather than an insurance company that a university will not pay for contraceptives, such as abortion-inducing drugs, is only a “cosmetic” change that still forces a university to “facilitate” its employees getting contraception, four Christian universities in Oklahoma said in a new filing in their challenge to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate.

Represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the universities told the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the administration’s new “accommodation” – in which the government arranges cost-free contraception for university employees after a school files its “religious objections” directly with the Department of Health and Human Services – still makes universities complicit:

They must still file a document causing their health plan, insurer, and/or third party administrator (TPA) to be commandeered by the government and used as a mule to deliver certain objectionable items. Under the old accommodation invocation mechanism, they completed and sent a particular form to the insurer or TPA; now it is a letter to the government identifying the insurer or TPA, which causes a letter to be sent to the insurer or TPA. …

The government could use its money—which under the new rule it offers to pay to TPAs—to deliver these items through the government’s own channels, without hijacking the Universities’ own plan administrator or insurer by means of the Universities’ contracts and their letters to the government. But the government stubbornly insists on involving the Universities in the delivery channels anyway.

It’s a “semantic” argument that universities won’t end up paying for abortion-inducing drugs:

[T]he government cannot deny that the payments for objectionable items that the Universities’ insurers would offer under the interim rule are part of the Universities’ own coverage. Therefore the Universities are substantially burdened because they are being required to provide a plan that covers the items, despite the government’s semantic denial of that fact.

Senior Counsel Gregory Baylor of the Alliance Defending Freedom says religious nonprofits should get the same exemption offered to churches, rather than a string of proposed accommodations which indicate that the government can find “less restrictive” ways of providing contraception.

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IMAGE: RoRi630/Wikimedia Commons



Christian colleges such as Wheaton in Illinois can simply “inform the Department of Health and Human Services of its religious objections and the department would then contact insurance companies and arrange the birth control coverage at no cost to the employer or its employees,” under the Obama administration’s latest attempt to satisfy the Supreme Court on contraceptive coverage, The New York Times reports.

Wheaton already secured an injunction from the Supreme Court this summer against having to comply with the administration’s earlier “compromise,” which would have made the college arrange for birth-control coverage directly with its insurance provider. That injunction laid out the same path adopted by the administration in Friday’s rule, which took effect immediately.

Read the full Times story here.

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The Department of Justice is trying to stop the religious-freedom logic of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby contraceptive-mandate case from spreading to religious colleges and other nonprofits seeking the same exemption.

The Associated Press reports that DOJ asked the Supreme Court Wednesday to turn down Wheaton Colleges’s request to get itself out of any complicity in the provision of “objectionable contraception”:

The issue in the lawsuits filed by Wheaton and other nonprofit groups is different because the administration already has allowed them to opt out of paying for the objectionable contraception by telling the government that doing so would violate their religious beliefs.

But they must fill out Form 700 that enables their insurers or third-party administrators to take on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. The employer does not have to arrange the coverage or pay for it. Insurers get reimbursed by the government through credits against fees owed under other provisions of the health care law.

The fight is over completing the form, which the nonprofits say violates their religious beliefs because it forces them to participate in a system to subsidize and distribute the contraception. …

“The decision in Hobby Lobby rested on the premise that these accommodations ‘achieve all of the Government’s aims’ underlying the preventive-health services coverage requirement ‘while providing greater respect for religious liberty,'” the Justice Department said, quoting from Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion.

Read the full article here.

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IMAGE: Department of Justice

After hearing Sandra Fluke speak at American University recently, one female student wasn’t impressed.

In an op-ed titled “How Sandra Fluke Gets It Wrong,” sophomore Julia Morriss writes in The Eagle student newspaper that Fluke’s feminism charms didn’t work on her, and offers a pretty compelling argument against Fluke’s infamous claim to fame.

“Fluke presents an appealing position: someone else paying for contraception. For a college student on a limited insurance plan, this sounds pretty good. It’s easy to work up self-righteous anger about it. Lots of insurance plans cover Viagra and vasectomies, so why not my birth control? Isn’t this just another example of sexism in our society? It’s not my fault I was born a woman, so why should I have to pay extra for my contraception?

Once worked into a frazzle, we demand our “equal” treatment and push the government to ensure we get it. The result is Obamacare’s Contraceptive Mandate. While there are numerous problems with the mandate, some are especially poignant. It seriously infringes on religious liberty, and it denies any concept of responsibility for one’s actions and choices.

Though Catholics have been among the most vocal opponents to the mandate, it goes against the religious practices of many others, including some Jewish and Muslim groups. To them, contraception is considered immoral for a variety of reasons that they’ve explained on numerous occasions.

But they shouldn’t even have to explain. The First Amendment guarantees anyone the right to their religious practices, and no branch of government is authorized to take away constitutional rights. Religious groups are private institutions whose mission is not only their product or service but their desire to foster an environment where they can practice and share their faith. As a country that prides itself on religious tolerance, why are we punishing some for their beliefs and forcing them into practices they find immoral?

… Another problem with Fluke’s demands is that she refuses to accept responsibility for her choices, a problem our generation seems to struggle with on a continuous basis. We are constantly told that a woman has a right to her privacy and her own body and that her choices are her own. No one else gets to make them and the government should stay out of her bedroom. But then the government should pay for her decisions? If my choices are my own and only I get to make them, why does someone else have to shoulder the responsibility?

The choices we make come with consequences and responsibilities. That is no one else’s fault and no one else’s burden to bear. Live your life how you want. Just don’t ask me to pay for it.

Fluke embodies our generation’s sense of entitlement. As a woman, I understand her appeal, but I also recognize that in an economy already crushed with debt, we should not try to expand government spending for something that both hurts religious liberty and removes our responsibility for our actions.

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