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Pro-Life Group Wins Battle to Stop HHS Mandate’s Fines

by Steven Ertelt | Washington, DC | LifeNews.com | 1/7/13 5:27 PM

National

In another victory in one of the lawsuits against the HHS mandate that is a part of Obamacare, Priests for Life has stopped the Obama administration from levying fines against it for failing to comply.

Priests for Life has scored a victory in its challenge to the religious-freedom-busting HHS mandate. Lawyers for the Obama administration stipulated that the pro-life organization would not have to offer contraception, sterilization services and abortifacient drugs through its employee health insurance plan, the group informed LifeNews today.

The injunction stays the fines they would have been subject to for non-compliance with the controversial HHS mandate.

Charles LiMandri, president and chief counsel for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, which filed Priests for Life’s lawsuit against the government in February 2012 (the fourth such lawsuit), said the government changed its stance after a judge in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York said he would be inclined to side with the pro-life group. Priests for Life argued that it was a religious organization that should be exempt from the rule.

The American Freedom Law Center, which filed suit jointly with LiMandri, noted that the agreement came as a result of the court strongly urging the government to enter into the stipulation. If an agreement was not reached by December 21, the court scheduled a hearing for December 26, at which time it was evident the court would order the injunction.

Priests for Life told LifeNews the agreement will stay in effect at least until the government issues new regulations covering contraceptive services under the health care law.

“We are not expecting the government to come up with regulations that we can accept, but this is still an important first step,” said Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life. “We were prepared to violate the mandate on Jan. 1, at great expense to our organization. We are very grateful to the court that we did not have to take that step, and we remain confident that this unjust mandate will be entirely and permanently struck down.”

Ashley McGuire Senior Fellow for The Catholic Association, also applauded the ruling.

She told LifeNews: “The Catholic Association commends the recent ruling in New York’s Eastern District Court against the HHS mandate. To think that priests advocating for life would have to then turn around and pay for things like contraception and abortion is outrageous. This decision is yet another blow to the government’s position that religious organizations are not entitled to conduct their affairs with integrity and according to the dictates of their conscience. Congratulations to Priests for Life, and thanks for standing up to bureaucratic bullies.”

Previously, Priests for Life won its battle for an emergency order to stop enforcement of the mandate before its January 1 enactment.

In August, Priests for Life indicated it would openly defy the mandate if it did not receive legal protection in court. At the time, Father Frank Pavone told LifeNews his pro-life group doesn’t qualify for the narrowly-drawn exemptions in the mandate, so his organization will not comply with it and will run the risk of fines and other possible punishment.

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“The unjust and unconstitutional HHS mandate, against which Priests for Life and 57 other plaintiffs have sued the federal government, takes effect today. We at Priests for Life do not qualify for the year that the government has offered certain groups to “adapt” to the mandate. And we are not “religious” enough for this Administration,” he explained. “But regardless of all that, we do not adapt to injustice; we oppose it.”

“Therefore today, on behalf of our organization and on behalf of myself personally, I announce our conscientious objection to this mandate,” he said then. “Priests for Life has the highest respect for civil government and advocates the observance of all just laws. But this policy is unjust, and today I reaffirm our intention to disobey it.”