Appeals Court Says Notre Dame Must Comply With Obamacare Contraception Mandate

An Illinois-based appeals court has ruled that a Catholic academic institute must provide healthcare insurance for both students and employees that cover contraceptives.

A panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled Friday that the University of Notre Dame must provide contraceptives despite the Catholic school's objections to said products.

In a two-to-one decision, the judges upheld the ruling of a U.S. District Court judge against Notre Dame, arguing in the majority opinion that Notre Dame "has not yet shown that there is a substantial burden" in complying with the birth control mandate.

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Judge Richard Posner, author of the majority, wrote that since Notre Dame is not directly responsible for providing the preventive services they are burdened by the mandate.

"We imagine that what the university wants is an order forbidding Aetna and Meritain to provide any contraceptive coverage to Notre Dame staff or students pending final judgment in the district court," wrote Judge Posner.

"But we can't issue such an order; neither Aetna nor Meritain is a defendant (the university's failure to join them as defendants puzzles us), so unless and until they are joined as defendants they can't be ordered by the district court or by this court to do anything."

In May 2012, the Indiana-based Notre Dame filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services over its controversial "preventive services" mandate.

Notre Dame was one of several Catholic organizations, colleges and charities to do so under the belief that the mandate forces Catholic employers to violate their religious conscience in providing services (birth control and abortion-inducing drugs) contrary to their beliefs.

Even as HHS created certain exemptions from the mandate for religious organizations last June, Notre Dame pressed on along with their effort to gain an injunction for relief from the obligations of the mandate.

Over the past couple months the Seventh Circuit has denied Notre Dame's requests for an injunction against the mandate, even as other entities, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, were given such by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The three judge panel was not unanimous in its recent decision against Notre Dame. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Joel Flaum wrote that Notre Dame should be given an exemption given its sincerely held religious beliefs.

"Notre Dame tells us that Catholic doctrine prohibits the actions that the government requires it to take. … So long as that belief is sincerely held, I believe we should defer to Notre Dame's understanding," wrote Flaum.

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