Challenges to Obama administration’s birth-control mandate piling up in court

Challenges to President Obama’s birth-control mandate are piling up in court.

Twenty-four lawsuits have been filed against the federal birth-control mandate so far, mostly from religious groups that view the policy as a dangerous erosion of religious freedom.

Foes of the mandate got a boost after Illinois-based Wheaton College — a prominent Protestant school — filed its own suit on Wednesday, joining mostly Catholic-affiliated institutions in arguing the mandate tramples on religious liberty.

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"The government's mandate unconstitutionally coerces Wheaton to violate its deeply held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines and penalties," the complaint stated. 

The onslaught of lawsuits was spurred by a White House policy that seeks to expand access to birth control by requiring that most employers cover it in their health insurance plans without a co-pay.

The policy exempts churches and houses of worship, but not religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities. 

The president announced an “accommodation” after a backlash to the policy that allows employees of religiously affiliated institutions to receive birth control directly from the insurance company.  

But Catholic leaders say the new mandate still erodes religious freedom and want it rescinded.

Ashley McGuire with the Catholic Association, a group that promotes activism against the mandate, said Catholics see the policy as "bullying" their faith.

"People in the pews may not agree with all of the Vatican's teachings," she said. "But they love their priests and they love their bishops. They see the mandate as a violation of the church's authority to act according to its conscience." 

Before Wheaton's move, most plaintiffs suing over the mandate were Catholic colleges and organizations that follow the Vatican’s teaching against birth control. Most of the 58 plaintiffs in the 24 lawsuits are Catholic dioceses, colleges and charity groups. 

But Wheaton’s involvement shows that Catholics aren’t alone in opposing the mandate, since many evangelical Christians view certain forms of birth control, such as the “morning-after” pill, as equivalent to abortion.

"The list of required services includes 'morning after' and 'week after' pills that claim the life of an unborn child within days of its conception," Wheaton President Philip Ryken wrote in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday. 

"During the period for public comment, Wheaton and many other evangelical colleges and universities objected that this requirement violated their belief in the sanctity of human life." 

The piece was co-written with John Garvey, the president of Catholic University, which filed its own suit alongside Notre Dame on May 21. 

"We must cherish life, not destroy it," the men wrote. "This belief is shared by both campus communities."

McGuire said Wheaton's move is "significant" because it shows that objection to the mandate is not limited to Catholics. 

"It shows how this issue transcends religious lines," she said.

Some states are also taking the Obama administration to court over the mandate.

On Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from seven states, ruling that they did not have standing to sue over the birth control policy because it does not go into full effect until next year. 

"The plaintiffs face no direct and immediate harm," wrote U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom.

The states in the lawsuit are Texas, Ohio, Florida, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Nebraska. The suit also included several Catholic groups.


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