Despite a Supreme Court order seeming to protect its religious freedom, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh says the federal government continues to exert strong pressure to force contraceptives into its health care plans.
The federal government has made “an extremely aggressive interpretation” of a recent Supreme Court’s order, the diocese said in an Aug. 11 statement. The government is “apparently trying to take over” its health plans.
The government, it said, aims to force the diocese’s third party administrators to include objectionable coverage in self-insured plans.
“We think that is an erroneous reading of what the Supreme Court said,” the diocese stated.
Under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the federal government mandated that many health care plans cover sterilization procedures and contraceptive drugs, including some drugs that can cause early abortions. The mandates would require Catholic-run organizations to help aid access to procedures and drugs that violate Catholic morals.
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh was the lead plaintiff in one of the lawsuits challenging the mandate. Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh and the Little Sisters of the Poor were also parties to the case. Over 300 plaintiffs have filed legal challenges to the mandate or joined others’ challenges.
They argued that the government mandate violated their religious freedom. They also objected that the government granted selective exemptions for the mandate to other organizations and its proposed revisions were gravely insufficient.
In May 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ordered the case to be returned to a lower court due to new developments in the case. The order was considered a win for the plaintiffs.
The decision also authorized the federal government to begin the process of providing contraceptive services to employees of Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh and other objecting agencies, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. In a court filing, the government said it will start notifying insurers to start providing contraceptives.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh, however, is self-insured. The diocese said this self-insured status means there is no obligation or authority for the third party administrator to provide the objectionable coverage.
“The Supreme Court also made clear that we cannot be fined or penalized for refusing to comply with the government’s current regulations,” the diocese said. “Therefore, we believe the government’s position is wrong.”
It repeated its willingness to negotiate “a mutually agreeable solution to our impasse over religious freedom.”
The Diocese of Pittsburgh said its counsel and counsels for other Supreme Court litigants met with representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice to engage in the resolution talks the diocese believed the Supreme Court had contemplated.
“The government has been slow to offer anything of substance to pursue a negotiated solution, except to mention its openness to future meetings,” the diocese said.
The diocese said it will work with its insurers, third-party administrators and the government to avoid future litigation.
“We remain in prayer for a mutually agreeable resolution.”