Judge Reject’s Pro-Life Group’s Lawsuit Against the HHS Mandate

National   Steven Ertelt   Apr 15, 2013   |   11:13AM    Washington, DC

A federal judge has rejected the lawsuit a pro-life Catholic group filed to protect itself from the HHS mandate, that compels religious groups to pay for birth control and drugs that can cause abortions.

On Friday, in Federal Court for the Eastern District of New York, Judge Frederic Block issued an order granting the government’s motion to dismiss the case, Priests for Life vs. Sebelius, on grounds of “lack of ripeness.”

Father Frank Pavone emailed LifeNews to talk about the judge’s decision saying the case was premature. Pavone said the result is not entirely bad news.

“The Court’s decision Friday does not mean that we are being forced to obey the mandate now. In fact, this same court protected us from having that happen, by having the government stipulate back in December, in writing, that it would not enforce the mandate against Priests for Life in 2013,” he said.

Pavone added: “Moreover, the dismissal does not mean we’ve ‘lost the case;’ it means the court is not ready to decide on the case. The court is not saying we are wrong in our arguments with the Obama Administration and the HHS. Rather, it is issuing a procedural, technical ruling saying that we have to wait before the court decides on the merits of those arguments. The reason for the wait is the Administration’s promise of further changes to the mandate, changes expected by August of this year. The Court is saying, ‘Wait and see if, once the changes to the mandate come, you still want to challenge it.'”

“In Judge Block’s order on Friday, he states, ‘The proposed regulations are not fit for review since they are still being formed…If Priests for Life is not content with the ultimate regulations, it may renew its legal challenge at that point.’ This is what has happened in over 20 other cases by similar organizations,” he continued.

What does Pavone think of that statement?

“The Administration has already announced proposed changes, all of which are unacceptable and do not address our legal or moral concerns. The Administration is delaying the inevitable resolution of the legal challenge, and then arguing that the delay itself is grounds for dismissing the challenge. These are cowardly games which show that the Administration just wants these lawsuits to go away. The Administration should not do this and the court should not allow it,” he said. “Moreover, the fact is that the mandate, as it stands now, is law. Its promises about the future are not law. Nor is there any indication that these future changes in any way will constitute exemption from the coerced coverage of objectionable activities.”

“What we are saying is simple: the law, as it is now, infringes on our rights, and we only have temporary protection from the damage it does. Right now, the government is momentarily ceasing its illegal conduct so that the legal challenge to it is dismissed, only to return to the conduct later. That is why we are petitioning, and will continue to petition, the courts to declare the mandate unconstitutional. And we have every confidence that we will be successful,” he added.

Robert Muise, an attorney from the pro-life American Freedom Law Center, a legal group representing Priests for Life, commented on the ruling.

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He said, “While we disagree with the court’s ruling, it is not a ruling on the merits of our legal challenge to the HHS mandate.  Consequently, as soon as the government ‘finalizes’ its implementing regulations in August, we will be right back in court, challenging the mandate and protecting religious freedom.”

Charles S. LiMandri, also a lead attorney for Priests for Life in the case, stated, “We are pleased that we were successful in securing a Stipulation from the Department of Justice and  an Order from the court that guarantees that Priests for Life will not have the current unconscionable HHS Mandate enforced against it. The Department of Justice has further represented in court that final amended rules concerning the HHS Mandate will be in effect by August 2013. If, as we expect, the final HHS regulations continue to be morally objectionable, Priests for Life will still have five months in which to initiate further legal proceedings before they would have to comply with them. We are confident that unless the HHS Mandate is amended to include acceptable conscience protections, that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately hold that it violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”