Catholic charities, Philadelphia Archdiocese sue federal government over ACA

A group of faith-based organizations, led by Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of

Philadelphia, claim that the contraception rules in the Affordable Care Act violate their First Amendment right to be free from religious discrimination, according to a federal suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The Archdiocese and its 17 Philadelphia-based affiliates seek relief from the contraception mandate and exemption from a fine that could amount to $160,000 a day for the organizations. The suit has been filed against Kathleen Sebelius, former secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services,Thomas Perez, secretary of the Department of Labor and Jacob Lew, secretary of the Department of Treasury.

The Affordable Care Act requires an employer's group health plan to cover certain preventative care for women, including contraceptive services. The list of eligible contraceptives, developed by the Institute of Medicine, is the Plan B, or "morning after," pill, a medication that the Catholic church does not approve because it may induce abortions. Failure to provide coverage for the purchase of morning after pills could result in a daily fine of $100 per employee.

The federal government attempted to create a work-around for religious organizations to adhere to the law without violating their tenets by establishing a relationship with the third party administrators of the group health plan. One of the mechanisms in this set-up requires an organization, such as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, to sign a form that certifies their religious objections to the contraception mandate.

However, the plaintiffs argue, signing the form grants the third party administrators to act independently of the archdiocese and provide the contraceptives. The organizations' religious beliefs forbid them to directly or indirectly provide access to contraceptives like the morning after pill.

The Archdiocese and churches are excused from the mandate, however the affiliated organizations listed as the plaintiffs do not qualify for the exemptions. The groups, such as the St. Martha Nursing Home and the St. Francis Country House are non-profits offering services throughout Philadelphia.

"The Contraceptive Mandate and the 'accommodation' place substantial pressure on the Archdiocese to violate its sincerely held religious beliefs, even though the Archdiocese itself is exempt from the Contraceptive Mandate," the plaintiffs wrote.

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