Bishop David Zubik and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh are suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after being forced to cover the cost of birth control methods that contradict the beliefs of the church.
On June 28, religious organizations had been declared exempt from the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act that required coverage of sterilization methods, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. However, the mandate would still force certain institutions covered by the diocesan health care, the Catholics Benefits Trust, to pay for birth control methods.
“What they will respect is the right to worship on Sunday; what they will not in effect respect is the right of faith-based bodies to live out their in faith in charitable institutions, educational institutions, service for the poor service for the needy,” said diocesan spokesman Robert Lockwood.
Educational and charitable bodies of the diocese are not exempt from the mandate, though they are covered under the same health care as other institutions of the church that are exempt. According to Lockwood, Health and Human Services has stated that the diocese has until Jan. 1 to meet the coverage requirements of the mandate or pay “massive fines.”
The diocese feels that this forced inclusion of birth control methods within their health care plan is in violation of their first amendment rights.
“What we’re saying (is) that the government please respect our beliefs and not impose that on us,” Lockwood said. “We’re not trying to impose it on anybody else. Every institution is free, OK, to establish what it wants to have or have not in its medical coverage.”
According to the diocese some 400,000 comments have been submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services from the Catholic population who oppose the mandate.
The federal government shutdown has stalled the appeal process, so it is difficult to foresee whether the conflict will be resolved before the mandate takes effect.