University re-files lawsuit over contraceptive mandate

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Dec 5, 2013

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Legal Newsline) -- The University of Notre Dame has re-filed a lawsuit in federal court over the health care law's contraceptive mandate.

The contraception coverage mandate, which was imposed under President Barack Obama's health care law, requires employers to offer insurance -- including contraception coverage -- or they may be fined.

The university, in its new complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana Tuesday, argues that the mandate requires it and similar religious organizations to provide contraceptives, procedures and drugs that are contrary to its Catholic teaching.

"Our abiding concern in both the original filing of May 21, 2012, and this re-filing has been Notre Dame's freedom -- and indeed the freedom of many religious organizations in this country -- to live out a religious mission," said the Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame's president.

"We have sought neither to prevent women from having access to services, nor even to prevent the government from providing them."

The university said it and government administration officials have been in conversation for more than a year to resolve the matter.

"We believe the participants undertook these discussions in good faith, and we are grateful to the administration for the time it gave to this matter and for its efforts to accommodate our concerns," Jenkins said. "We have concluded, however, the government's accommodations would require us to forfeit our rights, to facilitate and become entangled in a program inconsistent with Catholic teaching and to create the impression that the university cooperates with and condones activities incompatible with its mission.

"In these ways, we contend, the regulations compel us to violate our religious beliefs."

In its newest filing, the university has asked, among other things, that federal court enter declaratory judgments that the mandate violates its rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that the court enjoin the government from enforcing the mandate.

The lawsuit names as defendants Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and their respective departments.

The federal court dismissed the university's original suit, filed last year, indicating that the regulation was not sufficiently final, or "ripe," for judicial review.

Now, against the threat of punitive fines, Notre Dame's third-party administrator, Meritain, is required to notify all females of child-bearing age among the university's employees and their dependents of the availability of the "objectionable services."

Notice must be given by Jan. 1, hence the university's re-filing.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments from two companies that say they should be able to claim religious exemptions from the contraceptive mandate.

However, the nation's high court this week declined to review a challenge to the health care law by Liberty University, a private, Christian university in Virginia.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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