Pittsburgh Diocese Must Pay for Contraception

News: Government
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 15, 2016   

Feds ignore SCOTUS order while pressuring the self-insured diocese to comply

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PITTSBURGH (ChurchMilitant.com) - The federal government is forcing the self-insured diocese of Pittsburgh to offer contraceptives through third-party managers of their health insurance, in spite of an order by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding religious liberty.

The Pittsburgh diocese in a recent statement announced,

[W]e are aware that the government has made an extremely aggressive interpretation of the Court's order in the Zubik case and is apparently trying to take over — to force our third-party administrators to include the objectionable coverage in our self-insured plans. We think that is an erroneous reading of what SCOTUS [the Supreme Court] said.

The diocese is referring to the push by the U.S. government to offer contraceptive coverage to female employees of Catholic Charities while the diocese is in the midst of disputing in court such coverage prescribed by the Obamacare mandate.

This situation goes back to May's Supreme Court ruling that received much press coverage owing to the Little Sisters of the Poor being one of the plaintiffs. Not so well known was the fact that the lead plaintiff in the case was Pittsburgh's bishop David Zubik. His name appears on the Supreme Court ruling handed down in May, which was heralded by the the media as a victory for the the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The issue at hand was that organizations are required to issue a notice if they wish to opt out of offering contraceptive coverage. This notice, however, will trigger the contraceptive coverage to be given by a third party insurer. The Court opinion noted, "Petitioners allege that submitting this notice substantially burdens the exercise of their religion."

The Court further stated:

Petitioners have clarified that their religious exercise is not infringed where they "need to do nothing more than contract for a plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception," even if their employees receive cost-free contraceptive coverage from the same insurance company.

Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh is self-insured, with a third-party administrator, or contractor, managing its health care plans. The diocese also contends that the law does not require third-party administrators to comply.

The statement by the diocese last week spoke out against the pressure being applied to their third-party contractors to provide contraception coverage as the diocese is self-insured. "We think that is an erroneous reading of what the Supreme Court said. Furthermore, as the government seems to acknowledge, because we are self-insured there is no obligation or authority for the third-party administrator to provide the objectionable coverage."

The federal government confirmed, in accordance with the Supreme Court order, that compliance by employers wasn't necessary in order to provide contraceptives to those who want them. This suggests that the government has no "compelling interest" in ordering companies to comply with offering contraceptives. It also calls into question whether "the current regulations are the least restrictive means" by which the government can supply contraceptives to those who want them.

Finally, the Court mandated that organizations be "afforded an opportunity" to reach an agreement that doesn't violate religious freedom. On this score, the diocese last week lamented,

We have always been willing to meet with representatives of the government to negotiate a mutually agreeable solution to our impasse over religious freedom. ... The government has been slow to offer anything of substance to pursue a negotiated solution, except to mention its openness to future meetings.


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