Contraceptive Mandate Suit Should Be Thrown Out, U.S. Says

The U.S. asked a federal judge to dismiss a St. Louis business owner’s lawsuit challenging a requirement that businesses offer employees contraception coverage through health-care insurance.

Catholic businessman Frank O’Brien and his St. Louis-based O’Brien Industrial Holdings LLC sued the U.S. in March, arguing the mandate unconstitutionally violates his religious beliefs and the principals he applies to his company.

Lawyers for the government, in papers filed yesterday with U.S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson in St. Louis, said O’Brien failed to allege the mandate “substantially” burdened his religious freedom.

“Even if there is a substantial burden, the preventive services coverage regulations serve a compelling governmental interest,” according to the U.S., and “are the least restrictive means to achieve that interest.”

Forty-three Catholic organizations, including the archdioceses of New York and Washington, as well as the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America, filed 12 lawsuits yesterday in courts across the country, also arguing the mandate violates the freedom of religion guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Initial Mandate

The contraception requirement is part of President Barack Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, intended to create almost-universal health-care insurance coverage.

While the mandate initially compelled religious institutions and secular employers to pay for the coverage, after encountering opposition the president in February said he’d relieve religious groups of that responsibility by requiring insurers to provide the coverage free of charge. Republican lawmakers have said they seek repeal of the policy.

“We don’t think there’s any merit to their argument,” Edward L. White of the Washington-based American Center for Law and Justice, one of O’Brien’s lawyers, said in a telephone interview from Ann Arbor, Michigan, today. “We hope to proceed on the merits.”

The group will file opposition papers with the court, White said.

‘Pleasing Offering’

O’Brien employs 87 people at his businesses, which mine clays and silicates, and manufacture products such as insulation and the clay used for baseball infields, according to the complaint and the corporate website.

“Our mission is to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society,” according to the company’s site.

O’Brien “believes that he cannot pay for and provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, abortion or related education and counseling without violating his religious beliefs,” his lawyers said in the complaint filed on March 15.

In seeking dismissal of O’Brien’s challenge, the U.S. argues that its “preventive services coverage regulations” don’t require any health plan “cover abortion as a preventive service or that they cover abortion at all.”

They require group health plans cover all U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved “contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling,” lawyers for the U.S. said.

The archdiocese lawsuits filed yesterday seek court orders barring the mandate’s application to religious institutions or overturning it altogether.

The case is O’Brien v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 12-cv-476, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis).

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