Illinois court shoots down religious contraceptive appeal

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Religious leaders were recently dealt a blow in their ongoing fight against contraceptive laws when the state of Illinois shot down an attempt by six Catholic organizations to appeal the regulation that requires insurance coverage for contraceptives Feb. 8.

The roots of this requirement traces back to the creation of Obamacare in 2010. Among the many preventive care reforms that took place were contraceptive regulations. Companies and nonprofits nationwide were required to provide contraceptive options for their employees at no additional cost through their provided health insurance. Groups that failed or refused to do so could face stiff fines.

Upon the creation of this mandate, a number of religious or religiously-affiliated organizations were allowed to opt out of this regulation. However, a revision of the rules in 2012 eliminated this concession, revising the definition of “religious organization” to exclude religiously-tied hospitals, schools, charities or other nonprofits whose primary purpose for existence is to not provide religious service. Thus, all such organizations must provide contraceptive coverage, no matter how religiously connected they may claim to be.

This has prompted outcry among many within the Catholic leadership, who have long viewed contraceptives as a violation of the natural purpose of sex as procreation.

Dr. Mark Laboe, vice president of University Ministry at DePaul University, explained some of the reasoning behind Catholic leadership decisions.

“One reason the Catholic Church is against contraception is because of the very concern that contraception can too easily be complicit in fostering reductive notions of who we are as human people,” said Laboe.

The recent contraceptive legislation has been taken as a violation of their religious liberties and supposedly has forced them to fund behavior that is contrary to what Catholic leadership has encouraged. The Obama administration has provided a concession whereby third parties can function as the main providers of contraception, thus theoretically reducing the direct role of the religious organization itself.

“Some view it as just a shell game,” said Scott Paeth, a religious studies professor at DePaul. “Although insurers are supposed to take the financial hit, they will likely raise the premium for the providers … If one buys contraception, religious organizations think they indirectly fund it.”

Religiously-tied profits and nonprofits in numerous states are attempting to bring lawsuits, many of which have been shot down similarly to the recent Illinois decision. It is unknown whether Catholic organizations will ever be able to successfully fight these regulations.

“The general argument (against religious institutions) is that a company cannot object to funding something that’s against its religious beliefs,” said Paeth. “Imagine it this way: I’ve known people who try to refuse to pay taxes because (taxes) are used to fund war and they have a moral objection against war. Yet you simply cannot just withhold taxes. In the end, the same principles apply to (contraception laws).”

Steven H. Resnicoff, a law professor at DePaul, thinks the issue may be pushed further.

“The recent Illinois case was dismissed on a technicality,” said Resnicoff. “Parts of the complaint were directed towards old regulation (from 1993), not new regulation from the Obama era, making parts of the complaint irrelevant.”

Resnicoff believes some of the cases could be revised and potentially reach the Supreme Court, where “they may rule differently between religious for-profits and nonprofits.”

The majority of the Catholic populace, however, does not actually find objection to the use of contraceptives itself. A study by the Guttmacher Institute shows that approximately 98 percent of sexually-active Catholic women have used contraception.

“Many don’t understand why the church is hardline,” said Paeth. “Bishops are generally the ones who make loud noise – they have the political clout.”

Laboe even concedes that, in some cases, “there is disconnect between church leadership and the people who are part of the Church.” He hopes that this “disconnect creates the kind of creative tension that leads to the Church’s continual and ongoing enculturation,” and expects that this situation can be used as “part of the ongoing growth and development of the Church over time.”

The contraceptive measures have not affected the policies of DePaul, which has itself long offered contraceptive options to its employees even before the requirements delineated under Obamacare. The topic of employee contraception itself has, in general, been a non-issue on campus.

“I am not aware of any organized or consistent vocal opposition about this issue internally at DePaul,” said Laboe.

Regardless, the contraception issue could have bigger implications.

“The religious rights of for-profit entities have never been clearly delineated by the Supreme Court,” said Resnicoff. “If this goes that far, it could be the first case to resolve this issue.”