The pro-life group Priests for Life was one of the earliest organizations to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its HHS mandate. The mandate compels religious groups to pay for birth control drugs and drugs like ella that can cause very early abortions.
A federal appeals court has responded today to its appeal of a lower court decision on its lawsuit and the ruling protects Priests for Life from having to comply. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded that Priests for Life does not have to obey the HHS mandate – or pay steep fines for refusing to do so and it granted the pro-life organization a stay late today.
Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, said: “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted our motion to stay the mandate, meaning that the injunction protecting us from the mandate will remain in place while the Supreme Court considers our case.”
Pavone told LifeNews that Priests for Life’s attorneys filed the cert petition asking the Supreme Court to hear its case, on the merits, challenging the HHS mandate, after the appeals court refused a petition to give the case a hearing before the full court.
“Without the stay granted today, we would have been in the position of being fined for failing to comply with the mandate,” Father Pavone said. “But no matter what happens, we will not obey the mandate, nor will we pay fines to the government.”
“The government is using the same kind of arguments it has used in other lawsuits against the mandate brought by religious groups, namely, that because they have a religious exemption and in the light of promised changes in the mandate, these groups really aren’t being harmed, have nothing to worry about, and therefore no basis to sue the government,” Pavone added.
“The case of Priests for Life is different from that of the other religious entities, however. We were not covered by the ‘religious exemption,’ and therefore the mandate was to be effective for us this past January 1,” he said.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a favorable ruling in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a landmark case addressing the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of business owners to operate their family companies without violating their deeply held religious convictions. But that ruling applies only to Hobby Lobby and similar businesses.
Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Samuel Alito handed down the decision for the high court, saying, “The Supreme Court holds government can’t require closely held corporations with religious owners to provide contraception coverage.”
The court ruled that the contraception mandate violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, a 1993 law and it held that the mandate “substantially burdens the exercise of religion” and that HHS didn’t use the “least restrictive means” to promote this government interest, tests required by RFRA.
Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy joined in the majority decision. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
The Hobby Lobby decision only applies to companies, including Conestoga Wood Specialties, which had a companion case pending before the Supreme Court. Non-profit groups like Priests for Life and Little Sisters are still waiting for a Supreme Court ruling about their right to opt out of the mandate.
A December 2013 Rasmussen Reports poll shows Americans disagree with forcing companies like Hobby Lobby to obey the mandate.
“Half of voters now oppose a government requirement that employers provide health insurance with free contraceptives for their female employees,” Rasmussen reports.
The poll found: “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 38% of Likely U.S. Voters still believe businesses should be required by law to provide health insurance that covers all government-approved contraceptives for women without co-payments or other charges to the patient.
Fifty-one percent (51%) disagree and say employers should not be required to provide health insurance with this type of coverage. Eleven percent (11%) are not sure.”
Another recent poll found 59 percent of Americans disagree with the mandate.