Justice Dept. argues against exemption for Catholic Charities

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Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh should not get a temporary exemption from the Affordable Care Act's rules regarding insurance coverage for contraception, a Department of Justice attorney argued in a court filing Wednesday.

Justice Department attorney Brad Humphreys argued that all Catholic Charities has to do under the act is to tell its insurance administrator that it objects to coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. Then the administrator is required to provide the coverage, at no charge to Catholic Charities, and can seek reimbursement through the federal government.

Attorneys representing the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Diocese of Erie and church-affiliated groups have argued that if objecting to the coverage prompts the administrator to provide contraception, that amounts to "facilitating or enabling evil." They have said that requiring church-related organizations to do anything that results in the provision of contraceptives violates the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Mr. Humphreys wrote that even if there was no act, the organizations still would be telling their administrators not to provide contraception. Thus, he wrote, the act isn't burdening them.

U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab has scheduled a Nov. 12 hearing on whether the organizations are entitled to an injunction exempting them from the Jan. 1 deadline to provide, or object to, the coverage.

Mr. Humphreys wrote that complying with the act won't harm church-affiliated organizations, but not complying could hurt their employees.

"Many of Catholic Charities's employees may not share plaintiffs' religious beliefs," he wrote. "Those employees should not be deprived of the benefits of payments provided by a third party that is not their employer for the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive services."

Attorney Paul Pohl, who is leading the diocesan legal team, could not be reached.

Churches are exempt from the act's contraception mandate, but related organizations are not.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. First Published October 30, 2013 11:30 AM

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