The pro-life group Priests for Life was one of the earliest organizations to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its HHS mandate. The mandate compels religious groups to pay for birth control drugs and drugs like ella that can cause very early abortions.
A federal appeals court has responded today to its appeal of a lower court decision on its lawsuit and the ruling was not in Priests for Life’s favor.
In a 3-0 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded that the HHS mandate doesn’t abrogate the religious freedoms of Priests for Life or 11 other religious groups that also challenged the mandate.
Father Frank Pavone, the director of the Catholic pro-life group, told LifeNews: “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled today in our challenge to the HHS mandate. In the case of Priests for Life vs. HHS, the Court stated, “We conclude that the challenged regulations do not impose a substantial burden on Plaintiffs’ religious exercise.” The Court is wrong, and we will not obey the mandate.
“The government is using the same kind of arguments it has used in other lawsuits against the mandate brought by religious groups, namely, that because they have a religious exemption and in the light of promised changes in the mandate, these groups really aren’t being harmed, have nothing to worry about, and therefore no basis to sue the government,” Pavone added.
“The case of Priests for Life is different from that of the other religious entities, however. We were not covered by the ‘religious exemption,’ and therefore the mandate was to be effective for us this past January 1,” he said.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a favorable ruling in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a landmark case addressing the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of business owners to operate their family companies without violating their deeply held religious convictions. But that ruling applies only to Hobby Lobby and similar businesses.
Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Samuel Alito handed down the decision for the high court, saying, “The Supreme Court holds government can’t require closely held corporations with religious owners to provide contraception coverage.”
The court ruled that the contraception mandate violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, a 1993 law and it held that the mandate “substantially burdens the exercise of religion” and that HHS didn’t use the “least restrictive means” to promote this government interest, tests required by RFRA.
Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy joined in the majority decision. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
The Hobby Lobby decision only applies to companies, including Conestoga Wood Specialties, which had a companion case pending before the Supreme Court. Non-profit groups like Priests for Life and Little Sisters are still waiting for a Supreme Court ruling about their right to opt out of the mandate.
A December 2013 Rasmussen Reports poll shows Americans disagree with forcing companies like Hobby Lobby to obey the mandate.
“Half of voters now oppose a government requirement that employers provide health insurance with free contraceptives for their female employees,” Rasmussen reports.
The poll found: “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 38% of Likely U.S. Voters still believe businesses should be required by law to provide health insurance that covers all government-approved contraceptives for women without co-payments or other charges to the patient.
Fifty-one percent (51%) disagree and say employers should not be required to provide health insurance with this type of coverage. Eleven percent (11%) are not sure.”
Another recent poll found 59 percent of Americans disagree with the mandate.