Share This Page

Judge plans speedy ruling on Catholic groups' lawsuit over health care mandate

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 1:27 p.m.
In this photo from May 2012, Bishop David A. Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh announces a lawsuit in opposition to the federal mandate regarding birth control. File photo

Anticipating an appeal, a federal judge said Thursday he hopes to rule by December on whether to enjoin the government from enforcing a health care mandate on Roman Catholic entities in Pittsburgh and Erie.

The Affordable Care Act mandate takes effect Jan. 1, so the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would need time to decide what to do with any appeal, said U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab.

He held a hearing on Thursday to go over the background of the regulation that led the Pittsburgh and Erie dioceses, and their charitable organizations to file the lawsuit.

Brad Humphreys, the Justice Department trial lawyer representing the government, said the administration's position is that there's no need to delay implementation of the regulation while religious groups challenge the mandate in at least a dozen cases nationwide.

“The government's position is that the regulations are valid,” he said.

Paul Pohl, the lawyer representing both dioceses, said one of their main objections is the government's arbitrary distinction between the Pittsburgh Diocese, for example, and the Catholic Charities of the Pittsburgh Diocese.

The diocese would be exempt from a mandate that it provide employees with coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, sterilizations and related counseling services, but the charitable organization would not.

The regulation would allow Catholic Charities to certify that it objects to providing such services so that it wouldn't have to provide direct coverage, but a third-party administrator such as Highmark or UPMC Health Plan could.

The organization still would be “facilitating evil,” he said. While the regulation says that the third-party administrator would provide coverage without cost to Catholic Charities, that's a sham, he added.

“There's nothing free,” Pohl said. “Particularly in the field of health care.”

Schwab scheduled a hearing for Nov. 12 on the dioceses' motions for preliminary injunctions. Meanwhile, he ordered lawyers for both sides to produce agreements concerning the facts underlying the case.

Since one of the main criteria for granting an injunction is to prevent irreparable harm to the plaintiffs, Schwab asked them to provide him a description of what would happen to organizations such as Catholic Charities if they refuse to provide coverage and refuse to sign the certification document that would have a third party provide the coverage.

“What are the consequences to somebody who has a sincere belief and won't do either?” the judge asked.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.