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Why did EWTN sue the Federal Government?

The Federal Government has issued laws that will require EWTN to pay for and provide voluntary sterilizations, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraceptives as if these things were valid and morally acceptable healthcare. Despite promises to make a religious exemption, none of the rules and regulations issued so far will allow EWTN to follow the Catholic faith without having significant fines and penalties imposed on it. There was no other option than to seek redress from the courts.

What Law Makes EWTN pay for and Provide Contraceptives, Abortion Inducing Drugs, and Voluntary Sterilizations?

In March 2010 Congress passed, and President Barack Obama signed, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) – sometimes referred to as "Obamacare". In addition to an "individual mandate" which requires Americans to purchase health insurance, it also charged the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement the law by creating more rules and regulations.


In August 2011, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius produced a rule that mandates healthcare plans to provide certain preventive medical services without charge. Generally, preventative services are things like mammograms and colonoscopies that find cancer tumors or disease before it endangers human life. This rule goes way beyond those definitions and so far out there that it includes contraception, so-called "morning after pills" (Plan B, Ella) and voluntary reproductive sterilization – as if those things prevented a disease. Pregnancy is not cancer or a disease to be prevented the way a colonoscopy finds polyps.


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) enforces this Act and the mandate. Thus, if a religious organization like EWTN does not offer these mandated services free of cost – even because of serious religious objection, the IRS is authorized to collect heavy penalty fees from them.


This rule has been called the "HHS Mandate" or "Preventative Services Mandate" in popular discussion.

Doesn't the Mandate offer a "conscience exemption" for religious institutions?

Yes, but the exemption is so narrowly written that very few churches, let alone religious charities, qualify. The exemption is allowed only for institutions that have a purpose of inculcating religious values, primarily serve and employ persons who share the religious tenets of the organization, and are a certain type of nonprofit organization defined by the IRS. A parish church might qualify, but not if it employs non-Catholics. Many other Catholic institutions don't qualify either. A parish school that serves mostly disadvantaged students in the inner city or a Catholic hospital or college which accepts patients and students of any or no faith would not qualify because they serve or employ people of other faiths. The Mandate forces all of these institutions to either provide the morally objectionable services or pay crippling fines. EWTN employs people of many faiths, and we serve the public at large, so it doesn't qualify under this narrow exemption at all. In its case, EWTN estimates the first year fine would be $600,000! Those fines are annual, and likely increase every year!

Why did EWTN file its lawsuit in February?

During the public comment period, public outcry over the HHS Mandate generated over 200,000 comments to the Secretary, resulting in a political promise to provide a better religious exemption. Despite the promises, the actual regulations so far have not resulted in a religious exemption that allows EWTN to be exempt from paying for and providing these morally objectionable services. In January 2012, when the HHS Mandate rule became final, it was clear that it would not be changed, leaving EWTN no choice other than to have the courts intervene.

EWTN's lawsuit targets the Preventive Services Mandate, specifically, because it forces EWTN to provide contraception, Plan B, Ella and voluntary sterilization, all of which are gravely immoral in Catholic teaching. These things cause death, and as Catholic tradition since the Apostles has explained, causing death is not healthcare. Through this mandate and by threatening extreme monetary penalties, the government is forcing EWTN to give people drugs and services that cause death, permanently injure, and deform human life while forcing EWTN to call it healthcare. We believe that the government compelling us to do something that violates our Catholic conscience, especially something like the abortion-inducing drugs that will cause the death of unborn children, is unconstitutional government interference in religion, in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I thought that the President offered a compromise which would oblige the insurer, rather than the religious employer, to provide the objectionable services without any cost to the employer?

Unfortunately, not only would the compromise fail to fix the problem, but it never showed up in the law.

In February, the day after EWTN filed its lawsuit, President Obama and Secretary Sebelius held a press conference and did explain that they were aware of the religious exemption issue. During that conference, the idea of making the insurance company pay but not the employer was suggested as a solution. While this idea has the "appearance" of solving the difficulty, the reality is that insurers will have to recover their expenses some way. Nothing is free. Even though insurers would not charge the employer directly for these services, they would be forced to recover the cost somehow – perhaps indirectly by higher premiums for other services. For EWTN, however, there is no distinction between insurer and employer. Like many dioceses and other Catholic organizations, we are self-insured which means EWTN pays for the services directly as if it were the insurance company.

About a month later, on March 21, Secretary Sebelius issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that doesn't change the religious exemption language at all. In fact, this newly proposed rule still enforces the original HHS Mandate.


When and where did EWTN file its lawsuit?

EWTN filed its lawsuit on February 9, 2012 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

Has anything happened with the lawsuit since it was filed?

In March, the Attorney General of Alabama, Luther Strange, filed a motion to intervene and to join EWTN as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Among other things, he argues that the HHS Mandate violates the Alabama state constitution, which has a specific amendment protecting religious freedom. Furthermore, he argues that the Mandate will cause many people to become uninsured, thereby requiring the state to provide healthcare for them.

More recently, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss the EWTN lawsuit, claiming that EWTN isn't injured by the mandate. On June 1, 2012, EWTN filed its answer to the government, pointing out the rules are final and already have the effect of law.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court opinion on the constitutionality of the underlying Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is expected to be issued in June. If the Supreme Court determines that the Act as a whole is unconstitutional, then the mandate, which is part of the whole, will disappear. If this happens, EWTN will be relieved of this HHS Mandate.

Alternatively, the Supreme Court might leave parts of the Act or all of the Act intact and that result would leave the HHS Mandate in place. If this happens, EWTN will be forced to continue the lawsuit to have the mandate struck down.

Isn't the government just trying to provide the best medical care possible to women?

Contraception, abortion-inducing drugs (such as Plan B and Ella) and voluntary sterilization are gravely immoral in Catholic teaching. These things cause death, and as Catholic tradition since the Apostles has explained, causing death is not medical care.

Even outside of Catholic teaching, Hypocrates, the father of medicine, provided "do no harm" as the first principle of healthcare in the oath he wrote for physicians. All of the means to which the Church objects do harm, and none of them heal.

Generally, preventative health or medical services are things like mammograms and colonoscopies that find cancer tumors or disease before it endangers human life. This rule goes way beyond those definitions and is so far out there that it includes contraception, so-called "morning after pills" (Plan B, Ella) and voluntary reproductive sterilization as if those things prevented disease. Pregnancy is not cancer or disease to be prevented the way a colonoscopy finds polyps. Contraceptive methods treat a healthy fertility as if it were a disease. Certain contraceptive pills also cause abortion. Plan B and Ella cause direct abortion. Voluntary sterilization mutilates a healthy reproductive system. Whatever else these things are, they are not healthcare as medicine is traditionally defined because they neither prevent nor cure disease.

Both contraception and abortion are legal, isn't that sufficient grounds to provide them?

The legality of those things is not the dispute in the EWTN lawsuit. Rather, the dispute is over the fact that the government is forcing EWTN to do something morally objectionable. There are many things and services that are legal in our society, including the right to exercise religious freedom. Religious freedom protects us from being compelled to do something that we believe is morally wrong. Being forced by the government to do something you believe is wrong is the issue. Nobody should be forced to provide abortion, pay for a voluntary sterilization, or provide contraceptive pills against their religious belief that those things are morally wrong because they cause death, permanently injure, and mutilate healthy people. It's not as if these services cannot be found elsewhere. Because these things are legal, people can easily access those services for free or very low cost elsewhere. There is no reason to force religious organizations to provide them. EWTN should not be forced by the government to do something it considers gravely immoral.


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