All across the country, healthcare is changing. One of the biggest changes is the requirements placed on employers – not only do they have to provide insurance (or face penalties), they must also offer preventative care (care that extends to birth control options) free of charge. While may believe this is a huge step forward for Americans, there are others that say these changes are violating their right to religious freedom.
About 40 for-profit companies have requested that they be exempt from covering some or all forms of contraception in their healthcare. Most of them are making these claims based on religious freedom.
Hobby Lobby, Christian-owned arts and crafts chain with about 13,000 full-time employees took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking to be held exempt on religious grounds. They won their case in lower courts. On the other hand, Consestoga Wood Specialties, a Mennonite-owned company with about 950 full-time employees, lost their claim in the lower courts. The University of Notre Dame will soon know where they stand.
Originally, Notre Dame filed suit in May of 2012. However, U.S. District Judge Robert Miller Jr. dismissed their case last December, saying that the university wasn’t facing any imminent penalty or restrictions because some of the coverage regulations were being re-worked to hopefully come up with a compromise that would accommodate religious preferences without sacrificing care of those employed by such companies.
In the end, the Obama administration stated that they would only require outside insurers or the health plan’s outside administrator pay for birth control coverage and a way to reimburse for the care. This was created as a buffer to hopefully help ease the concerns of religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and social service groups. Notre Dame says it still isn’t enough.
“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,” Reverend John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, told NBC News.
Approximately 11,000 people, including 4,600 employees and 2,600 students are covered under Notre Dame’s self-insured health care plan. The health plans do not currently cover abortion-inducing products, contraceptives or sterilization, and the university doesn’t feel that should ever change.
Unfortunately, the university could face some hefty charges if the suit is lost and changes aren’t made. In fact, they could face fines of about $2,000 per employee if the health care plan is eliminated, or $100 per affected beneficiary affected if it continues the coverage without the preventative care. They claim that these costs are not only crippling; they’re coercive.
“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 says they aren’t looking to impose their religious beliefs on anyone else; they simply don’t want their right to freely exercise their belief system violated. They added that the government could provide contraceptive care through the expansion of existing family planning networks, or by creating a broader exemption for religious employers.
Daniel Conkle, an Indiana University professor of law and adjunct professor of religious studies, says that the Obama administration feels the burden on the Catholic entities are minimal. Notre Dame and other Catholic groups say it’s substantial.
Interestingly enough, Steve Schneck, director for the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies actually believes the administration’s accommodations are actually “sufficient to protect the Catholic conscience for administrators of these plans at Catholic universities.” However, Schneck says that lawsuits like this are still necessary.
“[The accommodations] really rest on the good graces of the administration and those good graces could disappear with a new administration,” Schneck told NBC News.
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