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.
But, last week, a federal appeals court ruled that the Obama administration can force Priests for Life to obey the HHS mandate. 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.
Responding to that decision, Father Frank Pavone, the director of Priests for Life, says his organization will never obey the mandate no matter what the government tries to do. From a report:
A statement from the national director of Priests of Life and Gospel of Life Ministries, Father Frank Pavone, denounced the judgement as “absurd”.
“Priests for Life will not obey the mandate! Not today. Not tomorrow. Now ever!” he said.
Father Pavone also told the Washington Times that “To ask a group of priests to cooperate in the government’s plan to expand access to birth control and abortion-inducing drugs is about as contrary to religious freedom as you can get.”
After Friday’s judgement, Father Pavone wrote on Facebook: “I am convinced that God will bring us through this setback. Faithfulness to His plan will render success, by resisting those who would throw religious freedom to the wind as in this case.
“Far from a political motivation, what galvanizes PFL in pursuing the appeal to the Supreme Court is first, the commitment to our Catholic Church whose moral principles themselves remain severely compromised in the Mandate; and second, as a needed agent to resist brazen government intervention against religious freedom of the First Amendment. This is a threat to ALL religious freedom…This is about any American. It is about life, religion and, yes, even our freedom. It is about God’s sovereignty over Caesar.”
The group is now hoping to take its case to the Supreme Court, where it hopes to receive a favourable ruling, as in the Hobby Lobby case.
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.