Gov’t Attorneys Appeal Penn. Health Care Law Contraceptive Rulings

February 19, 2014

Government attorneys have appealed two injunctions issued by federal judges on challenges by religious organizations over contraceptive coverage requirements in the new health care law.

Department of Justice attorneys asked the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday to review decisions by district judges granting a preliminary injunction in favor of Geneva College and a permanent injunction for various Roman Catholic organizations.

The Catholic organizations and Geneva, a school about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh that is affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, argue that certain types of birth control violate their religious beliefs.

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In ruling that Geneva College can exclude such coverage in a health plan it offers to employees and students, U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti said she expects the underlying religious issues to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court has agreed to hear two similar cases, including one filed by Oklahoma City-based arts and craft chain Hobby Lobby, which says the contraceptive mandates violate the beliefs of the “biblically founded business.”

In the other case, U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab said schools and charities affiliated with the Pittsburgh and Erie Catholic dioceses could see decreased donations, loss of employees and fines that could force the closure of some church programs if they were made to comply with the Affordable Care Act provision.

Under the law, religious nonprofits can avoid paying for the coverage by certifying that they object on moral grounds, but a third-party insurer must then provide coverage and seek federal reimbursement. But both Conti and Schwab ruled that self-certification poses a substantial burden for religious nonprofits that the government has failed to justify.

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