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EWTN, Priests for Life File Suit Against Obama Mandate

by Steven Ertelt | Washington, DC | LifeNews.com | 2/9/12 2:07 PM

National

The largest Catholic pro-life group and Catholic television station have filed suit against the new Obama mandate that forces religious employers like them to pay for birth control and abortion-causing drugs in employee health insurance.

The EWTN Global Catholic Network filed a lawsuit today in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Alabama against the Department of Health & Human Services, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other government agencies seeking to stop the imposition of the anti-conscience mandate as well as asking the court for a declaratory judgment that the mandate is unconstitutional.

“We had no other option but to take this to the courts,” says EWTN President and CEO Michael P. Warsaw. “Under the HHS mandate, EWTN is being forced by the government to make a choice: either we provide employees coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs and violate our conscience or offer our employees and their families no health insurance coverage at all. Neither of those choices is acceptable.”

The lawsuit was filed on EWTN’s behalf by Mark Rienzi, Kyle Duncan, and Erik Kniffin from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“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,” Warsaw continued.

He added:   “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. There is no question that this mandate violates our First Amendment rights. This is a moment when EWTN, as a Catholic organization, has to step up and say that enough is enough. Our hope is that our lawsuit does just that.”

The Becket Fund previously filed similar lawsuits on behalf of Belmont Abbey College, a small Catholic liberal arts college in Belmont, N.C., and Colorado Christian University, an interdenominational Christian liberal arts university near Denver, which demonstrates that this is not just a Catholic issue. Both suits were filed prior to the HHS rules being finalized in January.

“When the government recently mandated that all private group health plans cover certain abortion drugs (namely, Plan B and ella), as well as related education and counseling, [our clients] knew that they could not obey both the government’s mandate and their own religious convictions,” said Rienzi. “The mandate has been sharply criticized from across the political spectrum, and from religious leaders of a variety of faiths.”

Duncan, a former Louisiana Solicitor General and General Counsel of the Becket Fund, said that without a change in the rules, EWTN could be forced to pay more than $600,000 for the “privilege” of not underwriting these services.

“This mandate is particularly hard on Catholics because Catholic organizations, such as hospitals, schools, social service agencies, media outlets and others, serve people regardless of their religious beliefs,” Warsaw said. “We serve others not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic. “

Meanwhile, Priests for Life, a New York based international pro-life organization of Catholic clergy and laity, today announced that it will be filing a lawsuit against the Obama Administration in an effort to seek injunctive relief from impending regulations that would require the organization to pay for employee health insurance that covers abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization.

Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, said: “It’s unthinkable that President Obama would force Americans of any faith to violate their consciences. Yet here he is, arrogantly imposing these regulations that clearly discriminate against Catholics and all Christians, as well as people of any faith who believe in the sanctity of innocent human life. This has clearly become a human rights case – and is no longer just a partisan political football.”

The lawsuit will seek injunctive relief from the HHS rules – first on behalf of Priests for Life, and hopefully extending universally since all organizations and companies will be affected by the tyrannical HHS decree. Priests for Life is particularly well placed to pursue this litigation because its primary purposes are to promote and protect life whereas the primary purposes of the contraceptive mandate are to prevent and destroy life.

Priests for Life has retained noted civil rights attorney Charles LiMandri of San Diego to represent them in their lawsuit against Obama. LiMandri achieved national distinction by saving the famous “Mt. Soledad Cross” – a historic war memorial that had been erected on public property many decades ago, which local atheists sought to have torn down.

Congressman Steve Scalise has led a bipartisan letter with 154 co-signers calling on the Obama Administration to reverse its unconstitutional mandate forcing religious organizations to include drugs that can cause abortion and birth control in the health care plans of their employees.

Bishops across the country have spoken out against the mandate and are considering a lawsuit against it — with bishops in more than 164 locations across the United States issuing public statements against it or having letters opposing it printed in diocesan newspaper or read from the pulpit.

“We cannot — we will not comply with this unjust law,” said the letter from Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix. “People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens.”

Responding to the announcement, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated: “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”

“To force Americans to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. . . It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom,” he added.

The mandate is so egregious that even the normally reliably liberal and pro-abortion USA Today condemned it in an editorial titled, “Contraception mandate violates religious freedom.”

The administration initially approved a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine suggesting that it force insurance companies to pay for birth control and drugs that can cause abortions under the Obamacare government-run health care program.

The IOM recommendation, opposed by pro-life groups, called for the Obama administration to require insurance programs to include birth control — such as the morning after pill or the ella drug that causes an abortion days after conception — in the section of drugs and services insurance plans must cover under “preventative care.” The companies will likely pass the added costs on to consumers, requiring them to pay for birth control and, in some instances, drug-induced abortions of unborn children in their earliest days.

The HHS accepted the IOM guidelines that “require new health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services” and those services include “FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling” — which include birth control drugs like Plan B and ella that can cause abortions. The Health and Human Services Department commissioned the report from the Institute, which advises the federal government and shut out pro-life groups in meetings leading up to the recommendations.