WASHINGTON (CNS) — Americans United for Life filed a brief Nov. 13 in Nebraska v. Health and Human Services, a case initiated by the state of Nebraska and six other states challenging the HHS mandate requiring most employers, including religious employers, to provide free coverage of contraceptives.
The Washington-based group filed the brief on behalf of the Catholic Medical Association, the National Catholic Bioethics Center and five other national medical organizations, saying that the group they represent — physicians, bioethicists and other health care professionals — has a “profound interest in defending the sanctity of human life in their roles as health care providers, medical experts, and consumers.”
It also said in the brief’s introduction that these members “are supportive of a variety of public, private, and charitable efforts that address health care affordability and accessibility” but they oppose the contraceptive mandate of the health care law because it “violates sincerely held religious beliefs and freedom of conscience.”
The HHS mandate requires most employers, including religious employers, to provide insurance coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services.
A narrow exemption applies only to those religious institutions that seek to inculcate their religious values and primarily employ and serve people of their own faith. The mandate does not include a conscience clause for employers who object to such coverage on moral grounds.
The Nebraska case is being heard on appeal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in St. Louis. The U.S. District Court for Nebraska in Omaha dismissed the case.
It is one of at least 38 cases that have been filed across the nation by Catholic dioceses and other Catholic entities, but the only case that has been filed on behalf of a group of states: Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. Also joining the states were several Catholic and other nonprofit organizations.
The states had explained to the lower court that because the mandate offends the beliefs of some religious organizations, those organizations may opt to cease providing health insurance coverage to their employees.
The states argued that this would cause an immediate and substantial increase in enrollment in state Medicaid programs, further burdening already strained programs and threatening budgetary stability.
However, the lower court dismissed the case, claiming that the states did not have standing to file suit.
Americans United for Life brief also explained that the states and private plaintiffs are not protected by the Obama administration’s “safe harbor,” a yearlong period that protects employers from immediate government action against them if they fail to comply with the mandate. The final rule on the mandate takes effect in August 2013.
The administration has also created what it calls an accommodation allowing those employers who object to providing contraceptives to pass on the costs of the mandated coverage to their insurance carriers or a third party, rather than pay for them directly. But many dioceses are self-insured.
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