A Catholic-affiliated television network Thursday launched a legal salvo in the war between the church and the White House over the health care law's requirement that religiously affiliated institutions offer insurance plans that cover contraception.
EWTN Global Catholic Network, which touts itself as the largest religious media network in the world, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Department of Health and Human Services and its secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.
The complaint is among the first filed after a final interim rule was issued; HHS has yet to finalize the actual rule. A conservative legal group called the Becket Fund is representing EWTN. The organization has also filed two similar lawsuits on behalf of religiously affiliated liberal arts colleges before the rule was set.
The mandate is part of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. The mandate exempts churches and church-sponsored groups from offering employees insurance plans that cover preventative care, like birth control, for women at no cost. But religious affiliated institutions, like a university or a hospital, would still have to offer health insurance plans that completely cover contraception.
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Objected
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops objected to the mandate as an affront to religious liberty, while the Obama administration said the rule carefully balances church concerns with women's right to access health care.
EWTN President and CEO Michael P. Warsaw said in a statement the mandate is forced speech because the company must inform employees how to get contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs. He also said the company's donors would be forced to pay for these health care plans or risk fines for failing to offer insurance.
There is no question that this mandate violates our First Amendment rights, Warsaw said.
The lawsuit, filed in an Alabama federal court, compounds a week of controversy on an issue that has caught the attention of the Republican presidential candidates and GOP leadership in Washington, who have been hammering Obama for his disdain of religious liberty, as the Republican National Committee chairman put it recently.
The contraception rule is even dividing lawmakers in the Democratic Party, with several senators calling for the current exemption to be extended to church-affiliated companies.