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On Thursday, June 28, the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the provision in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Affordable Care Act”) that requires individuals to buy health insurance or pay a penalty to the Internal Revenue Service. By upholding that provision of the health care reform law, the Supreme Court essentially allowed the law to remain in effect.

The Supreme Court ruling has no real impact on the lawsuits that were filed in May challenging the constitutionality of the Feb. 15, 2012, mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There was no involvement by the Catholic Church in the challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and since 1919 the bishops of the United States have called for some form of access to health care for all.

The lawsuits filed in May challenge the constitutionality of a separate provision of the Affordable Care Act, the HHS mandate that would force virtually all private health insurance plans nationwide to provide coverage for abortifacients, sterilization services, contraceptives, and related counseling. This mandate offers no clear religious exemption for Church-related entities, including Catholic hospitals, universities social service agencies, outreach to the poor and care for the elderly.

The issue in these lawsuits is simple. HHS cannot ignore religious freedom guaranteed in the Constitution and force the church to do what it considers morally and religiously objectionable. The lawsuit is meant to protect the rights of all Americans not to be forced by the government to act against their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

Twelve lawsuits involving 43 Catholic dioceses, hospitals, social service agencies and other institutions were filed and are proceeding. Among those filing lawsuits in response to the HHS mandate are the Diocese of Pittsburgh, The Catholic Cemeteries Association and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Outside the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Diocese of Erie, the University of Notre Dame, Franciscan University of Steubenville, the Archdioceses of Washington, New York and St. Louis, the Catholic University of America, the Michigan Catholic Conference and Our Sunday Visitor Inc. are among others filed lawsuits.

One of the church’s primary concerns at the time the Affordable Care Act was being debated, however, was that the way the Act was written could provide government the means to violate the conscience of individuals. That concern was proven to be well-founded by the subsequent actions of the government.

But the lawsuits filed by the Diocese of Pittsburgh and others noted above never challenged the provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires individuals to buy health insurance. Rather, those lawsuits challenge the HHS mandate that would force health insurance plans for church-related entities to include coverage for abortifacients, sterilization services, contraceptives, and related counseling. This is an unprecedented government intrusion into the life and conscience of the church.

As Bishop David Zubik wrote recently in USA Today, “These lawsuits ask that religious freedom rights be recognized and respected as they were prior to Feb. 15. The church cannot be forced to violate its own sacred beliefs. To do so starkly contradicts everything we have been taught and everything we know about religious freedom in the United States.”










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