Friday, February 10, 2012

Catholic News Organization Sues Over Contraception Coverage Mandate

The Becket Fund announced yesterday that it has filed a federal lawsuit in Alabama on behalf of a non-profit Catholic news organization challenging the application to it of the federal Mandate under the Affordable Care Act requiring health insurance policies (with limited exceptions) to cover contraceptive services for women.  The complaint (full text) in Eternal Word Television Network, Inc. v. Sebelius, (ND AL, filed 2/9/2012), alleges that EWTN, founded in 1981 by a cloistered nun, has grown to now become the largest Catholic media network in the world with 340 employees. The complaint asserts:
28. As part of its commitment to Catholic social teaching, EWTN promotes the well-being and health of its employees. In furtherance of these beliefs, EWTN has striven over the years to provide employee health coverage superior to coverage generally available in the Alabama market.
29. Moreover, as part of its religious commitment to the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church, EWTN ensures that its insurance policies do not cover drugs, devices, services or procedures inconsistent with its faith. In particular, EWTN has taken great pains through the years to ensure that its insurance plans do not cover sterilization, contraception, or abortion.
The complaint claims that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Free Exercise, free expression and Establishment clauses of the 1st Amendment, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act.

EWTN also issued a statement announcing the lawsuit, saying in part:
"We are taking this action to defend not only ourselves but also to protect other institutions – Catholic and non-Catholic, religious and secular – from having this mandate imposed upon them".... "The government is forcing EWTN, first, to inform its employees about how to get contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs, a concept known as forced speech. To make the matter worse, the government then will force EWTN to use its donors' funds to pay for these same morally objectionable procedures or to pay for the huge fines it will levy against us if we fail to provide health care insurance.
Becket Fund had previously filed two similar lawsuits (see prior posting 1, 2) on behalf of religiously-affiliated universities. Discussion of the Mandate in the media has generally focused on Catholic universities and hospitals. This appears to be the first significant challenge brought by an organization outside those two categories. ABC News reports on the new lawsuit.

UPDATE: According to Friday's Detroit Free Press, Michigan state attorney general Bill Schuette say he will take the lead in assembling states to file an amicus brief supporting the Becket Fund's position in the three cases.