SOUTH BEND Ind.—The University of Notre Dame on Tuesday filed another lawsuit against the U.S. government, saying the federal health care overhaul forcing it to provide health insurance for students and employees that covers birth control contravenes the teachings of the Roman Catholic institution.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in South Bend claims the U.S. Affordable Health Care Act violates Notre Dame’s freedom to practice religion without government interference. Under the law, employers must provide insurance that covers a range of preventive care, free of charge, including contraception. The teachings of the Catholic Church prohibit the use of contraceptives.
“The government’s accommodations would require us to forfeit our rights, to facilitate and become entangled in a program inconsistent with Catholic teaching and to create the impression that the university cooperates with and condones activities incompatible with its mission,” the Rev. John I. Jenkins, the university’s president, said in a statement. “In these ways, we contend, the regulations compel us to violate our religious beliefs.”
Notre Dame says in the lawsuit that its employee health plans are self-insured, covering about 4,600 employees and a total of about 11,000 people. Its student health plans covers about 2,600 students. The lawsuit says Notre Dame’s health plans do not cover abortion-inducing products, contraceptives or sterilization.
“The U.S. government mandate, therefore, requires Notre Dame to do precisely what its sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit pay for, facilitate access to, and/or become entangled in the provision of objectionable products and services or else incur crippling sanctions,” the lawsuit says.
Notre Dame argues in the lawsuit that the fines of $2,000 per employee if it eliminates its employee health plan, or $100 a day for each affected beneficiary if it refuses to provide or facilitate the coverage, would coerce it into violating its religious beliefs.
The university argues that it is not seeking to impose its religious beliefs on others, but that it just wants to protect its right to the free exercise of its religion.
“We have sought neither to prevent women from having access to services, nor even to prevent the government from providing them,” Jenkins said. The lawsuit argues that the government could alternatively pay for contraception through the expansion of its existing network of family planning clinics or by creating a broader exemption for religious employers.
Notre Dame filed a similar lawsuit in May 2012; U.S. District Judge Robert Miller Jr. dismissed that case last December saying the university lacked standing because if wasn’t facing any imminent penalty or restrictions because the federal government was reworking some of the coverage regulations Notre Dame was seeking to block.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to consider two cases in which business have objected to covering birth control for employees on religious grounds. Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned arts and crafts chain with 13,000 full-time employees, won its case in lower courts, while Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Mennonite-owned company that employs 950 people in making wood cabinets, lost its claims in lower courts.
About 40 for-profit companies have requested an exemption from covering some or all forms of contraception.