Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said the federal contraceptive mandate "is wrong, and we will not obey the mandate." CNS photo/Bob Roller

Priests for Life won't 'obey' HHS mandate

By 
  • November 17, 2014

WASHINGTON - Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said a U.S. federal appeals court that ruled against his organization in its challenge to the federal contraceptive mandate "is wrong, and we will not obey the mandate."

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued the unanimous decision Nov. 14.

"The court stated, 'We conclude that the challenged regulations do not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs' religious exercise,' " Pavone said.

"After studying the decision further, we will release more commentary."
Priests for Life argued that the Obama administration's procedure that nonexempt religious employers must follow to opt out of the contraceptive mandate violates the organization's religious rights.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires nearly all employers to cover contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortion-inducing drugs for all employees in company health plans. It includes a narrow exemption for religious employers that fit certain criteria.

To opt out, nonexempt religious employers must follow a procedure to inform the government of its religious objections to the mandated coverage.

The government in turn informs a third party — such as the employer's insurer or the administrator of its plan — that it must provide the coverage at no cost to the employee. Previously these employers had been required to fill out a self-certification form — known as EBSA Form 700 — to state their objection to providing the coverage and to direct a third party, usually the manager of an employer's health plan, to provide the contested coverage.

Many religious employers that have sued over the mandate argue that even filling out Form 700 makes them complicit in providing coverage they find objectionable. So last August, the Obama administration issued a new procedure whereby these employers must advise HHS in writing of their religious objections. HHS itself will then notify the insurer for a health plan, or the Department of Labour will notify the third-party administrator for a self-insured plan, that the organization objects to providing contraception coverage. The insurer or third-party administrator must provide the coverage at no cost to the employee.

The District of Columbia circuit court ruled on an appeal filed by Priests for Life, after the same court dismissed the group's lawsuit last December.

Judge Cornelia Pillard wrote the Nov. 14 decision, calling the "bit of paperwork" required to opt out of the mandate "straightforward and minimal."

"Religious nonprofits that opt out are excused from playing any role in the provision of contraceptive services, and they remain free to condemn contraception in the clearest terms," she added.

Employers that do not comply with the mandate face fines of $1,000 a day per enrollee in their health plan.

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