Catholic Benefits Association presses Trump to end contraceptive mandate

By Kurt Jensen

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Frustrated
by federal court inaction and the Department of Justice blocking the way, the Catholic
Benefits Association has called on President Trump to intervene directly in the
legal battle over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

“This is a problem that’s easily
remedied,” Douglas C. Wilson,
CBA’s chief executive officer, told Catholic News Service. “It was created by
Obama’s regulatory administration and it can be undone by the Trump
administration just as easily.”

In an Aug. 18 letter, Wilson
asked the Trump administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and
the Department of Justice to stop defending the mandate in court and agree to a
permanent injunction protecting the plaintiffs in all cases. The letter also
urged the White House to adopt, unchanged, a proposed HHS regulation, submitted
in May, to exempt employers with conscientious objections from having to comply
with such mandates.

The mandate requires employers
to provide coverage for contraception and abortifacients, opposed by Catholic
moral teaching, under penalty of fines.

Wilson said he has not yet
received anything other than a pro forma White House acknowledgement of the

Asked about it during an Aug. 24 news conference, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded,
“I’m not sure if (Trump is) aware of the complaints or any specific places
where that’s being ignored.”

On May 4, Trump, in a Rose
Garden ceremony, announced an executive order, “Promoting Free Speech and
Religious Liberty.”

“Your long ordeal will soon
be over,” he announced to religious groups that included the Little Sisters of the
Poor, whose Supreme Court victory in 2016 was widely considered the beginning
of the end of the contraception mandate. “We are ending the attacks on your
religious freedom.”

The CBA, based in Castle Rock, Colorado, and
representing more than 1,000 Catholic health care providers, has been the
largest single plaintiff challenging the mandate. The association first sued HHS
in March 2014. CBA members “are facing $6 billion in accumulated penalties
should this fail to be resolved,” Wilson said.

In July, the CBA filed a motion
with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver asking for affirmation of its
2014 injunction blocking implementation of the mandate. But on July 31, Justice
Department lawyers opposed the motion and asked that the appeal be kept alive.

“They cited only some
unspecified efforts to reach a regulatory resolution outside of the judicial
process, but we have no guarantee that such a resolution will be either timely
or sufficient,” Wilson’s letter argued.

(HHS Secretary Tom Price) “believes
that the Little Sisters, eighty Catholic bishops, and hundreds of other
religious employers should win their lawsuits. The president likewise has
promised the religious employers victory. But for whatever reason, the Justice
Department keeps defending Obama’s contraception mandate in court,” Eric Kniffin, a CBA lawyer

Wilson added, “It seems
that this issue never crosses the finish line.”

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