The Pittsburgh and Erie Roman Catholic dioceses have settled lawsuits seeking to overturn an Affordable Care Act mandate that would have forced them to provide contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs or services as part of their employee health care plans.
President Donald Trump's administration announced Oct. 6 that it was rescinding the mandate that was part of the health reform laws known as "Obamacare." The new rules also broadened "conscience protections" to include nonprofits and certain other businesses that claim a moral objection to contraception or abortion, even if it's not religious-based.
But lawsuits filed in 2012 challenging the mandate still remained after the U.S. Supreme Court last year ordered the religious entities and the government to settle the dispute.
Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, announced the settlement Tuesday as one that "restores religious freedom granted by the First Amendment." The government jointly agreed to the dismissals to settle the lawsuits.
"Our litigation sought to re-establish the cornerstone principle that freedom of religion means freedom to practice our faith in daily life, not just in worship and prayer," Zubik said in a statement. "On the other hand, this agreement does not prohibit the government from providing contraceptives. But it does prohibit the government and others from using church-related insurance plans as a conduit for such coverage."
The dioceses, along with Geneva College, an evangelical Presbyterian school in Beaver Falls, were among more than 70 religious organizations that sued over the Department of Health and Human Services' mandate. Geneva and the government jointly dismissed and settled their case Oct. 10.
Zubik's lawsuit called the mandate an "unprecedented government infringement on the religious liberties of religious organizations" in arguing that only church entities that primarily employ and serve Catholics were exempted.
The lawsuit, which also included the diocese's local Catholic Charities and Catholic Cemeteries Association, said a compromise announced by President Barack Obama that shifted the burden of providing the coverage from the organizations to their insurance companies was an "accounting gimmick" — and didn't help the diocese anyway because it is self-insured.