Court Rules Against Notre Dame on Contraception Mandate

By:  Warren Mass
02/26/2014
       
Court Rules Against Notre Dame on Contraception Mandate

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago ruled against the University of Notre Dame on February 21 — upholding a U.S. District Court judge’s earlier ruling that denied the university’s request for an injunction temporarily exempting it from complying with the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

Notre Dame had sought the injunction against the contraceptive requirement pending the results of a lawsuit it filed in May 2012 challenging an alternative plan offered by the Obama administration that offers cosmetic cover intended to assuage the consciences of institutions that object to the Affordable Care Act mandate on religious grounds. The compromise plan requires the administrator of Notre Dame’s employee plan, Meritain Health Inc., and the insurer for students, Aetna Inc., to pay for birth control coverage and establishes a method to reimburse those entities.

However, Notre Dame objected to that arrangement because it still forces the university to be complicit in an act that is contrary to Catholic moral teaching.

The Court ruled two-to-one to uphold the judge’s denial of the university’s request for a temporary injunction.

Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the majority opinion, dismissed the university’s moral argument, writing:

If the government is entitled to require that female contraceptives be provided to women free of charge, we have trouble understanding how signing the form that declares Notre Dame’s authorized refusal to pay for contraceptives for its students or staff, and mailing the authorization document to those [insurance] companies, which under federal law are obligated to pick up the tab, could be thought to “trigger” the provision of female contraceptives. 

“We are left with the question, what does Notre Dame want us to do?” Judge Posner asked.

Presumably, Notre Dame wants the federal government to do what it always has (or has not) done — mind its own business and not interfere with how private institutions operate.

In his dissent, Judge Joel M. Flaum noted that other religious institutions have been granted injunctions when they have challenged the law, writing:

Notre Dame tells us that Catholic doctrine prohibits the actions that the government requires it to take. So long as that belief is sincerely held, I believe we should defer to Notre Dame’s understanding.

Notre Dame spokesman Paul Brown released a statement to the local South Bend Tribune noting that the university’s “concern remains that if government is allowed to entangle a religious institution of higher education like Notre Dame in one area contrary to conscience, it’s given license to do so in others.”

“Our lawyers are reviewing the 7th Circuit ruling and contemplating next steps,” Brown said.

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