Notre Dame, Catholic institutions sue Obama over contraception mandate

The University of Notre Dame joined other Catholic institutions Monday in suing the Obama administration over its contraception mandate. 

The lawsuit argues the mandate in the healthcare law requiring that insurance plans cover birth control for women without a co-pay violates the religious freedom of Catholic institutions. 

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The Archdiocese of Washington, the Michigan Catholic Conference and the Catholic University of America are among the other plaintiffs in the suit. 

Notre Dame's participation is notable because Obama gave a controversial commencement speech at the school in 2009. Anti-abortion-rights groups criticized the school for inviting Obama because of his position on abortion.

The suit was one of 12 similar actions filed Monday around the country, a release from the Archdiocese of Washington stated, bringing the total number of cases now pending over the mandate to more than 30. 

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, praised the trend in a statement.

"We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress — and we’ll keep at it — but there's still no fix," he said.

"Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now." 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which Dolan leads, had warned lawsuits were coming in a letter sent to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week. 

"Absent prompt congressional attention to this infringement on fundamental civil liberties, we believe the only remaining recourse … is in the courts," lawyers for the group wrote May 15.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said in February that Obama takes objectors' concerns "very seriously" and is "very aware of and engaged in this issue."

"We are very sensitive and understand some of the concerns that have been expressed," Carney told reporters.

"We're not trying to win an argument here. ... We're trying to implement a policy that will affect millions of women."

The archbishop of Washington has been sharp in its criticism of the mandate in recent days, particularly ahead of a graduation speech given by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Friday at Georgetown University.

On Monday, the Archdiocese denounced the mandate for not providing an exception for some Catholic institutions, such as hospitals or schools, because they serve and employ non-Catholics and do not primarily strive to "inculcate religious values."

"Catholic institutions of the Archdiocese of Washington, including its schools and social service ministries, do not qualify as religious and the mandate forces them to provide coverage for drugs and procedures that we believe are morally wrong," Archbishop Donald Wuerl said in a statement.

Under the White House’s proposal, most employers must cover contraception in their employees’ healthcare plans without charging a co-pay. Churches and houses of worship are exempt altogether. Religious-affiliated institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and schools, don’t have to pay for the coverage through their own plans — their employees will instead get contraception directly from the insurer, still without a co-pay.

—This story was updated at 1:22 p.m.