A federal judge has dismissed one of the dozens of lawsuits that religious groups and businesses have filed against the Obama administration over the HHS mandate that compels them to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions.
A Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh and Catholic Cemeteries Association of Pittsburgh.
According to the court, the “safe harbor provisions of the regulation itself protects all of the Plaintiffs from any potential enforcement action until at least January 1, 2014. Further, the health care plan offered by the Diocese, as well as three of the four health care plans offered by Catholic Cemeteries, share additional protection under the regulations insofar as they are each grandfathered under the ACA.”
The court said the Obama administration has “committed to amending the preventive services coverage regulations well before January 2014 to accommodate the religious objections of organizations such as Plaintiffs.”
However, pro-life and religious groups say the exceptions in the HHS mandate are very narrowly drawn — making it so many church groups and religiously-run businesses are not exempt and would be forced to pay millions of dollars in fines for failing to follow the HHS mandate.
A newspaper report has one Catholic official saying the ruling is only the beginning of the battle against the mandate.
Even though the Diocese of Greensburg did not join the Pittsburgh diocese in the lawsuits, it supports the effort.
“The ruling does not end the legal efforts to challenge this mandate,” said Jerry Zufelt, spokesman for the Greensburg diocese. “We continue to support the Pittsburgh diocese and other groups opposing this. As it stands now, we believe this mandate is an infringement on the beliefs of the Catholic Church.”
The local church-affiliated groups said that while some of their health plans are “grandfathered” from having to pay directly for drugs such as the so-called “morning-after pill” and other contraceptives, the administration’s exemption that would have their insurers offer such services directly to employees and their dependents still violates the organization’s religious beliefs.
“Even if plaintiffs do not end up paying for the prohibited drugs and services, they will still be forced to violate their religious beliefs by facilitating the provision of those drugs and services,” the lawsuit said.
The diocese additionally said in the lawsuit that it needed time to plan for employee health care benefits, that it was unable to enter into collective bargaining negotiations in January, set tuition rates in February and make decisions about teacher retention in April because of uncertainty regarding whether the changes would be amended.
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One legal analyst made it clear the decision is just the first in a series of rulings that he thinks will ultimately result in the HHS mandate being declared a violation of the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court has ordered a federal appeals court to take a new look at the controversial Obamacare law and whether it unconstitutionally forces taxpayers to fund abortions and birth control, violating religious freedoms. The high court is ultimately expected to resolve the debate over the HHS mandate.