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Ave Maria University Sues Obama Admin Over HHS Mandate

by Steven Ertelt | Washington, DC | LifeNews.com | 2/21/12 1:10 PM

National

Add Ave Maria University to the list of colleges and other religious employers adversely affected by the new Obama HHS mandate who have filed suit against the Obama administration over its forcing them to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions.

Jim Towey, president of the Catholic college, knows first-hand the immense value religious people of all faiths bring to the public square and is determined to stop the Administration’s efforts to push them to the margins.  Towey worked with Mother Teresa for 12 years, and saw her establish AIDs clinics and homeless shelters, then served for 4 years as President Bush’s director of faith-based and community initiatives.

Towey brought this understanding and vision to Ave Maria, a Catholic University dedicated to transmitting authentic Catholic values to students, who can then carry those values to the world.  But the Obama Administration’s contraceptive and abortion mandate threatens the very faith that animates Ave Maria’s mission.

“It is a sad day when an American citizen or organization has no choice but to sue its own government in order to exercise religious liberty rights guaranteed by our nation’s Constitution,” he said. “Today Ave Maria University is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is requiring the University to offer health plan services inconsistent with our firmly-held religious convictions.”

“As an American Catholic, I am in disbelief that I have to choose between being a good Catholic and a good citizen.  I will not, and the University will not, accept this false choice.  The federal government has no right to coerce the University into funding contraceptive services that include abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization, in the health plan we offer our employees,” Towey continued.

Towey says the revised mandate is no accommodation for religious beliefs because it attempted to shift the provision of these services from the employer to the insurer.

“This sleight of hand maneuver by the government fooled no one.  Ave Maria University pays 95 percent of the cost of the health plan we offer our employees.  It is absurd for the federal government to suggest that these new pharmaceuticals will be free because they aren’t free now.  In fact the administration’s own argument for free contraceptive drugs is that they currently place a financial burden on women,” the Ave Maria University president said.

Tell Obama: Stop This Pro-Abortion Mandate

The mandate is so problematic that Towey says it will not comply with the law because it would have to pay for abortifacient drugs — therefore, it is prepare dot discontinue its health plan and pay the $2,000 per employee, per year fine rather than comply with what it considers an unjust and unlawful mandate that violates its conscience rights.

Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed suit this morning on behalf of the University, said, “The federal mandate puts Ave Maria in a terrible bind. Either it betrays its faith and covers the drugs, or else it ends employee health benefits and pays hundreds of thousands in annual fines.”

Ave Maria University’s case is the fourth lawsuit brought by the Becket Fund challenging the Obama administration’s abortion drug mandate.  The Becket Fund also represents Belmont Abbey College (a Catholic college in North Carolina), Colorado Christian University (a nondenominational Christian University outside Denver), and the Eternal Word Television Network (the largest Catholic media network in the world).

Yesterday, LifeNews reported that Geneva College and Louisiana College also filed suit.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen state attorneys general have signed onto a joint letter Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning started coordinating  against the controversial Obama mandate requiring religious employers to cover birth control and drugs that can cause abortions

Bruning has contacted each of his colleagues in 49 states and has already been joined by a dozen, including South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Together, the three lawmakers have co-signed a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebilius, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis over the Obama mandate.

Also, 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 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.

Priests for Life, a New York based international pro-life organization of Catholic clergy and laity, filed 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.

Late last week, the Obama administration asked a federal court to dismiss yet another lawsuit filed against the Obama administration over its mandate.

This was its first opportunity to explain to the court and the country why the mandate is not illegal and unconstitutional. The Obama administration did not defend the constitutionality of the mandate, but said the lawsuit should be thrown out because the administration plans to revise the mandate to make it on insurance companies to pay for coverage rather than employers, who will still have to make referrals.

This was its first opportunity to explain to the court and the country why the mandate is not illegal and unconstitutional. The Obama administration did not defend the constitutionality of the mandate, but said the lawsuit should be thrown out because the administration plans to revise the mandate to make it on insurance companies to pay for coverage rather than employers, who will still have to make referrals.

“Plaintiff’s challenge to the preventive services coverage regulations is not fit for judicial review because defendants [Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius] have indicated that they will propose and finalize changes to the regulations that are intended to accommodate plaintiff’s religious objections to providing contraception coverage,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) wrote in its brief to the Washington, D.C. District Court.

Obama officials claim the mandate does not put forth any “immediate injury” to religious groups.

Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel of the Becket Fund, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic university, says he thinks the Obama administrations argument will not stand up in court.

“It doesn’t argue that the mandate is legal; it doesn’t argue that the mandate is constitutional,” Goodrich said. “Instead, it begs the court to ignore the lawsuit because the government plans to change the mandate at some unspecified date in the future.”

“Apparently, the administration has decided that the mandate, as written and finalized, is constitutionally indefensible,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty “Its only hope is to ask the court to look the other way based on an empty promise to possibly change the rules in the future.”

The panel that put together the mandate has been condemned for only having pro-abortion members even though polling shows Americans are opposed to the mandate.

More than 50 members of Congress banded together at a press conference to demand legislation to stop the new mandate pro-abortion President Barack Obama put in place forcing religious employers to pay for insurance coverage including birth control and abortion-inducing drugs.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry held a press conference with supporters of the bipartisan, bicameral Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. His legislation would protect the religious liberty and conscience rights of every American who objects to being forced by the strong-arm of government to pay for drugs and procedures recently mandated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Fortenberry bill currently has the support of approximately 220 Members of Congress and Senators, the most strongly-supported legislative remedy to the controversial HHS mandate.  This measure would repeal the controversial mandate, amending the 2010 health care law to preserve conscience rights for religious institutions, health care providers, and small businesses who pay for health care coverage.

H.R. 1179 enjoys the endorsements of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, and other organizations.  Numerous other organizations, including the Christian Medical Association and Family Research Council, have urged support of the bill.

Sen. Roy Blunt, a pro-life Missouri Republican, is putting forward the Blunt Amendment, #1520, again, and it is termed the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. According to information provided to LifeNews from pro-life sources on Capitol Hill, the Blunt Amendment will be the first amendment voted on when the Senate returns to the transportation bill. The amendment would allow employers to decline coverage of services in conflict with religious beliefs.

Republicans are moving swiftly with legislation, amendments, and potential hearings on the mandatethe Obama administration has put in place that forces religious employers to pay for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs for their employees.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops  issued a statement saying Obama’s revised mandate involves “needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions” and it urged Congress to overturn the rule and promised a potential lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the Republican presidential candidates had been taking verbal swings at Obama for imposing the original mandate on religious employers, which is not popular in the latest public opinion poll and which even some Democrats oppose.

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

The original mandate was 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.