SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The University of Notre Dame on Tuesday filed another lawsuit opposing portions of the federal health care overhaul that forces it to provide health insurance for students and employees that includes birth control, saying it contravenes the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in South Bend claims the Affordable Health Care Act violates Notre Dame's freedom to practice religion without government interference. Under the law, employers must provide insurance that covers a range of preventive care, free of charge, including contraception. The Catholic Church prohibits the use of contraceptives.
The lawsuit challenges a compromise, or accomodations, offered by the Obama administration that attempted to create a buffer for religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and social service groups that oppose birth control. The law requires insurers or the health plan's outside administrator to pay for birth control coverage and creates a way to reimburse them.
The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, said that wasn't enough.
"The government's accommodations would require us to forfeit our rights, to facilitate and become entangled in a program inconsistent with Catholic teaching and to create the impression that the university cooperates with and condones activities incompatible with its mission," he said in a statement.
Notre Dame says in the lawsuit that its employee health plans are self-insured, covering about 4,600 employees and a total of about 11,000 people. Its student health plans cover about 2,600 students. The lawsuit says the health plans do not cover abortion-inducing products, contraceptives or sterilization.
"The U.S. government mandate, therefore, requires Notre Dame to do precisely what its sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit — pay for, facilitate access to, and/or become entangled in the provision of objectionable products and services or else incur crippling sanctions," the lawsuit says.
Notre Dame argues that the fines of $2,000 per employee if it eliminates its employee health plan, or $100 a day for each affected beneficiary if it refuses to provide or facilitate the coverage, would coerce it into violating its religious beliefs.
Daniel Conkle, an Indiana University professor of law and adjunct professor of religious studies, said Notre Dame's arguments are similar those in a case last month where a federal judge in Pennsylvania granted the Pittsburgh and Erie Catholic dioceses a delay in complying with the federal mandates.