CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Roman Catholic organizations in Wyoming told a federal judge Wednesday that they don’t want to have anything to do with helping their employees access health insurance that includes contraception and abortion services.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, the Cheyenne diocese and other religious groups, including Catholic schools in the state, don’t have to provide contraception and abortion services for their more than 200 non-ministerial employees - but only if they get a religious certification that gives those same employees access to health insurance through another provider with those same options.
Bishop Paul Etienne of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne said the church faced two options: not providing health insurance at all and facing fines, or taking a step that essentially gives their employees access to something the church is morally opposed to. That, Etienne said, would be a burden on his conscience.
After hearing from lawyers representing both the Catholic groups and a federal lawyer who defended the contraception coverage requirement, Judge Scott Skavdahl said he will issue a decision later on the groups’ request for an injunction. They want to block the insurance requirement while their lawsuit challenging the federal health reform law runs its course.
“This is not an issue that’s easily resolved, and won’t be resolved by whatever I decide,” Skavdahl said. Similar legal challenges, most mounted by Catholic organizations, are pending around the country.
Skavdahl said he saw a single question before him: whether filling out the form that would trigger third-party insurance coverage amounts to a substantial burden to the groups’ religious freedom.
Attorney David Raimer presented most of the Catholic groups’ argument to Skavdahl. While making the certification might seem a small act, Raimer said it goes directly against the groups’ religious principles.
Raimer said the groups object both to filling out the certification form and also object to securing insurance coverage for abortion and contraception.
“Plaintiffs sincerely believe that they cannot fill out that self-certification form without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Raimer said.
Julie Saltman, a federal lawyer representing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other defendants, said accepting the Catholic groups’ theory of what constitutes a substantial burden would substantially expand the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that limits government intrusion on religious practices.
Saltman said the Catholic groups’ position would undermine any chance of the groups’ employees getting contraceptive coverage. She said the effect would be to allow the groups to deny women access to the insurance coverage Congress wanted them to get.
“The federal government has determined it’s important for women to have access to contraceptive coverage,” Saltman said.
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