WASHINGTON (CNS) – The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Jan. 25 dismissed a lawsuit filed against the federal contraceptive mandate by the Archdiocese of Washington and its co-plaintiffs, saying the case is premature in light of the government’s “promises to amend the mandate.”
“Importantly, this ruling was not based on the merits of our case,” said a statement issued by the archdiocese.
“In fact, the court’s ruling today places the onus squarely on the government,” it said, “to fulfill its binding commitment to address the religious freedom concerns” of the archdiocese, The Catholic University of America, the Consortium of Catholic Academies, Archbishop Carroll High School and Catholic Charities of D.C.
“This requires the government to revise its HHS mandate in a way that truly respects our right to serve all those in need without violating our religious beliefs,” the archdiocese said.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued the ruling, saying that “if after the new regulations are issued, plaintiffs are still not satisfied, any challenges that they choose to bring will be substantially different from the challenges in the current complaint.”
Jackson was referring to the federal government stating that it will publish notice of proposed rulemaking in the first quarter of this year and issue a final rule on the mandate before August. In the meantime, the Obama administration has in place a “safe harbor” period that protects employers from immediate government action against them if they fail to comply with the mandate.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate requires employers, including most religious employers, to include coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services.
The requirement, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, has a narrow exemption that applies only to those religious institutions that seek to inculcate their religious values and primarily employ and serve people of their own faith. It does not include a conscience clause for employers who object to providing such coverage.
One proposed accommodation from the government would allow those employers who object to providing contraceptives to pass on the costs of the mandated coverage to their insurance carriers or a third party, rather than pay for them directly. But many dioceses are self-insured, and Catholic officials say the policy would offer no fundamental change.
Jackson’s decision “was based on two commitments the government made to the court in this case and others: first, that the mandate as currently written will never be enforced against us; and second, that the mandate will be revised in a way that addresses our religious freedom concerns by March 31, 2013,” the archdiocesan statement said.