When prayer fails, sue!
We knew this was coming. After all, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been threatening
that if the bishops don't get their way—and prayer, "the ultimate source of our strength," fails them—they'll take their whining to court. And that's exactly what they've done. Via
More than 40 Catholic institutions on Monday filed lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s policy that requires employers to provide insurance coverage of contraceptives, a coordinated strategy backed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The groups, including the Archdiocese of Washington, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic schools and charities, filed 12 lawsuits in courts throughout the country. They join about 12 lawsuits already filed against the policy. [...]
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has been a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s policy, is not a party to the suits but said it is backing them.
, filed Monday by the University of Notre Dame, repeats several of the false allegations made repeatedly by the bishops and Republicans, such as:
Under current federal law described below (the "U.S. Government Mandate"), Notre Dame must provide, or facilitate the provision of, abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraceptive services to its employees in violation of the centuries' old teachings of the Catholic Church.
That's something the Church and its various affiliated organizations have continued to claim, even though it's blatantly false. The new mandate does not
require the Church, Notre Dame, or any of the other Catholic hospitals or universities to do ... well, anything. It requires the insurance companies
who provide insurance to the employees and students of those institutions to "provide, or facilitate the provision of" such basic preventive health care as contraception.
(Continue reading below the fold)
Notre Dame claims that it "operates self-insured employee health plans" and "does not contract with a separate insurance company that pays for Notre Dame's employees' medical costs. Instead, Notre Dame functions as the insurance company underwriting its employees' medical expenses, with all funding coming from Notre Dame." Notre Dame, however, does contract with a separate insurance company for its students, and its provider, Aetna, is most certainly not a Church-affiliated institution.
However, even Notre Dame's supposedly "self-insured" program for employees is problematic. The university claims it fully funds the employees' insurance plan, and therefore, by requiring its insurer to cover the cost of contraception, the Obama administration is forcing Notre Dame to spend its own dollars on health care it finds objectionable.
But that's not entirely true either. As conservatives have reminded us ad nauseum, when trying to defund Planned Parenthood, money is fungible. That means that if an organization receives one dime of taxpayer dollars, no matter how it spends that dime, it frees up the organization's other dimes to spend on other things taxpayers might find objectionable. The oft-cited example is that if Planned Parenthood receives money for, say, breast exams, it allows Planned Parenthood to spend its other, non-taxpayer dollars on abortion.
So obviously Notre Dame doesn't receive a single dime of taxpayer dollars, right?
Wrong. Since 2009, Notre Dame has received a whole lot of federal dimes, including 32 grants totaling almost $35 million as part of the stimulus program. And while that money may not have gone directly to Notre Dame's health care or its self-funded insurance, since money is fungible, that $35 million does fund Notre Dame's insurance program, in an indirect fungible way. Which means Notre Dame should have to adhere to the same laws and policies as any other organization, instead of hiding behind its claim that it's a religious institution, indistinguishable from, say, the Church itself.
Of course, that's not true either, as Notre Dame admits in its lawsuit:
While committed to remaining a distinctly Catholic institution, Notre Dame opens its doors and its service programs to students, academics, prospective employees, and people in need, from all faiths and creeds.
Notre Dame maintains a faculty of nearly 1,100 professors, of whom 97% are lay persons, plus an additional 452 faculty members.
So the university is both a Catholic institution, just like the Church itself, and "opens its door and service programs" to everyone. Its employee insurance plan is funded only
by Notre Dame dollars, even though the university has received millions of federal tax dollars. And then there is this lie:
The U.S. Government Mandate requires Notre Dame, as a group health plan provider, to cover "[a]ll Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods,sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity." [...] Many contraceptives approved by the FDA that qualify under these guidelines cause abortions.
This is a favored lie among the bishops and forced birthers: that birth control equals abortion. It's an absurd claim—birth control prevents pregnancy, abortion terminates pregnancy—but that hasn't stopped them from continuing to insist that providing access to pregnancy prevention is the exact same thing as abortion.
The complaint also states:
The Government has no compelling interest in forcing Notre Dame to violate itssincerely held religious beliefs by requiring it to provide, pay for, or facilitate access to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives.
Putting aside that there is no requirement to provide, pay for, or facilitate access to "abortion-inducing drugs," of course
the government has an interest in ensuring that women have access to affordable basic health care, including birth control. That was the finding
of the Institute of Medicine, and that's the exact reason the policy was implemented.
But this, perhaps, is the biggest lie of all:
Requiring Notre Dame to provide, subsidize, and/or facilitate devices, drugs, procedures, or services that violate its beliefs constitutes a substantial burden on Notre Dame's free exercise of religion.
This is what we've been hearing from the bishops for several months now. They've insisted that women's access to basic and affordable health care violates Church doctrine and the religious freedom of the bishops. The only
way they can freely practice their faith, as protected under the First Amendment, is to prevent any American woman, regardless of her faith, from having access to basic affordable health care. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, insisted
that these lawsuits are necessary because the administration refuses to "negotiate" with the Church, even though the administration spent several months doing exactly that:
“We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress — and we’ll keep at it — but there's still no fix,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a statement. “Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.
Of course, the Church has also repeatedly made it clear that no
amount of negotiation would be acceptable, because
"there is no way to compromise on the matter." In fact, the Church has argued
that if its "religious liberty" is not protected—meaning, if the Obama administration is not stopped from mandating that insurance companies offer basic health care—the Church will be prevented from engaging in any of its other, not-related-to-women's-health-care work:
We just want to be left alone to live out the imperatives of our faith to serve, teach, heal, feed, and care for others. We cherish this, our earthly home, America, for its enshrined freedom to do so. Those really concerned about women’s health would be better off defending the Church’s freedom to continue its work.
But, they say, they won't be able to "serve, teach, heal, feed, and care for others," unless the government—you know, that same government that handed out 35 million taxpayer dollars to Notre Dame alone—leaves them alone to discriminate against women's health in private.
If a court decision earlier this year is any indication, the Church and the organizations it has rounded up to file suit against the Obama administration won't get far with this argument. The Church does not get to decide what is and is not health care, or basic health care, or preventive health care, or necessary health care. And no amount of lies or lawsuits or Republican talking points will change that.