Pennsylvania Record

Monday, January 27, 2020

Roman Catholic dioceses of Pittsburgh, Erie petition U.S. SC over contraception mandate

By Jessica Karmasek | Jun 4, 2015


WASHINGTON - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and Diocese of Erie have filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court over the contraception requirement of President Barack Obama’s federal health care law.

The groups filed their petition for writ of certiorari with the nation’s high court May 29.

If their petition for review is granted, the dioceses want justices to overturn a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that would force them to comply with what they deem as “morally unacceptable” provisions in the mandate.

The contraception coverage mandate, which was imposed under Obama’s health care law, requires employers to offer insurance -- including contraception coverage -- or they may be fined.

Family-owned companies and religious-affiliated nonprofits have argued the mandate requires them to provide contraceptives, procedures and drugs that are contrary to their teachings.

The lawsuit is similar to one filed last year by the neighboring Diocese of Greensburg. The diocese and Bishop Lawrence Brandt filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania last May, claiming the regulation infringes on the church’s religious liberty.

In August, the court granted a permanent injunction that halted the enforcement of the mandate and remains in force.

The Greensburg case has been stayed pending the outcome of the cases brought by the Pittsburgh and Erie dioceses.

“The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ignores the Catholic Church’s basic First Amendment right to practice our faith in the public square without interference by government dictates that are contrary to our sincerely held core beliefs,” Brandt said recently.

“The HHS mandate requires the Catholic Church to be complicit in paying for contraceptive services, abortifacient drugs and sterilization procedures, all of which are morally unacceptable. Refusal to comply with the HHS mandate is punishable by fines that will force us to shut down ministries, including those that help the most vulnerable people in our Diocese. That cannot be allowed.”

Twice in recent months, the Supreme Court has thrown out federal appeals court decisions backing the requirement, remanding cases for consideration in light of its Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores decision.

The June 2014 ruling allowed closely-held, for-profit corporations to be exempt from a law its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest.

The dioceses are being represented by Jones Day of Pittsburgh, pro bono. The law firm has filed similar lawsuits on behalf of dozens of Catholic entities around the country, also on a pro bono basis.

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