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Judge blocks ‘contraception mandate’ for Catholic diocese plaintiffs

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A federal judge in Fort Wayne has blocked enforcement of the “contraception mandate” for numerous health care providers in a lawsuit brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. The ruling could impact more than 10,000 people eligible for benefits through a number of diocese-related organizations.

District Court Judge Jon DeGuilio of the Northern District of Indiana granted a temporary injunction blocking the mandate contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The litigation is Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend Inc., et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al., 1:12-CV-159.

The diocese and its affiliated plaintiffs – Catholic Charities; Saint Anne Home & Retirement Community; Franciscan Alliance, Inc.; Specialized Physicians of Illinois, LLC; University of Saint Francis; and Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. – claim the mandate violates their religious liberties under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The order notes Franciscan employs about 8,700 benefits-eligible workers; the diocese employs about 1,000 who participate in a health plan; Specialty Physicians, Saint Francis and Our Sunday Visitor each have more than 300 benefits-eligible employees; Saint Anne Home has 220 insurance-eligible workers; and Catholic Charities has a few dozen.

In granting the injunction, DeGuilio ruled, “plaintiffs have shown that their RFRA claim stands a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits, that irreparable harm will result without adequate remedy absent an injunction, and that the balance of harms favors protecting the religious-liberty rights of the plaintiffs.”

The ruling Friday came just days after another judge in the Northern District rejected a suit refiled by the University of Notre Dame that sought to block third-party providers who would provide contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The mandate has divided federal circuit courts and currently is before the Supreme Court of the United States.

DeGuilio’s order noted the injunction was granted ahead of motions to dismiss and summary judgment motions “in an effort to prevent the possibility of any unjust enforcement of the contraception mandate against plaintiffs come the first of the year.”

The ruling states, “there are certainly other ways to promote public health and gender equality less burdensome on religious liberty, and the government has not carried its burden of demonstrating that it cannot achieve its policy goals in ways less damaging to religious-exercise rights.”

Employees might not share the diocese’s views on contraception and abortion, the ruling notes. “(T)he plaintiffs’ employees and the public are best served if the plaintiffs can continue to provide needed (and expected) religiously based community services, and the needed (and expected) insurance coverage to its employees, without the threat of substantial fines and the risk of layoffs for noncompliance with the contraception mandate and its accommodation,” DeGuilio wrote.

 

 

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