Several organizations filing lawsuits in response to new mandate
The now infamous birth control mandate set forth by the Obama Administration has resulted in multiple lawsuits issued by Catholic dioceses, churches and schools that believe the White House has infringed upon religious rights.
In the latest development regarding the disagreement between the White House and Roman Catholic bishops this year, a move by the Obama Administration Health and Human Services (HHS) Department to improve women’s healthcare has been construed by several religious leaders as an attack on the right to religious freedom without government interference. The mandate, requiring employers to provide employee health insurance that includes access to contraception, has led to numerous lawsuits against the Administration. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who advocated religious freedom in a commencement address at Georgetown University, will serve as a defendant in the lawsuits. The Institute of Medicine, which advises the federal government, believed the mandate would improve the health of mothers and their children.
The mandate originally allowed churches to opt out of the requirement while charities, schools and hospitals with religious affiliation were required to participate. After the mandate was adjusted to require insurers rather than religious organizations to cover birth control, some religious leaders still believed the rule did little to accommodate religious freedom. A spokesperson for the Obama Administration has said the rule is still under deliberation.
Forty-three Catholic dioceses and other religious organizations have filed challenges to the rule in eleven circuits of the federal judicial system. The Catholic Diocese of Peoria is looking into the option of filing a lawsuit but has not yet reached a decision. Leaders in the Catholic Church in Springfield have called the mandate “an unprecedented attack by the federal government on one of America’s most cherished freedoms.”
Aside from Illinois, Washington D.C., New York, the Michigan Catholic Conference, Texas, Indiana, Missouri and Mississippi, have issued lawsuits. In New York, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops attempted to resolve the issue through discussions with the White House Administration as well as congressional legislation but to no avail.
Notre Dame had also been in deliberations with the Administration and has a record of supporting President Obama in the past, even coming under fire from U.S. bishops in 2009 for inviting Obama to speak at commencement in spite of his pro-choice status. But earlier this year, the President of Notre Dame, Reverend John Jenkins, said talks with the Obama Administration had left doubts as to whether the White House was doing everything it could to protect religious freedom. The school has since decided to sue.
Some Washington lawmakers have become entangled in the proposed federal contraception mandate. Republican Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) along with other party members have held recent discussions regarding whether to file an amicus brief but have yet to come to any decisions. After tiresome negotiations with the Administration most Republicans feel that time is running out and are turning to the courts as a last resort.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have been the GOP’s most vocal critics of the mandate, initially defining the ordeal as an issue of religious freedom rather than women’s health. Democrats stepped up their attacks on the GOP, saying the party’s position undermined women’s access to health services. Currently, all of the circuit courts are facing decisions regarding whether the mandate can even be called constitutional. Republicans and Democrats in Peoria have differing views on the issue.
“I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say Obama is infringing upon religious freedom,” says Susan Cartwright, a life-long Democrat from Pekin. “I think he’s doing what he believes is in women’s best interest. I think he’s always done that. And that’s why he’s leading among women voters.”
“I’ve never had a problem with contraception, but I do have a problem with government control,” says Nancy Myers, a Republican from Peoria. “I think this is just one more way Obama is supporting big government—by allowing the government to coerce people that do have an issue with contraception to go along with his rule. To me, that’s socialism, and it isn’t fair.”