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Catholic employers exempted from birth-control requirement

A network of Catholic employers is temporarily exempt from the federal government's requirement to provide free birth control coverage for workers, a federal court has ruled.

The ruling this week by an Oklahoma judge grants a preliminary injunction for some members of the Catholic Benefits Association, an organization of religious employers that owns an insurance company and is led by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.

The CBA and other Catholic groups filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government in March, asking to be freed from the Affordable Care Act's requirement to provide contraceptive coverage without a co-pay.

The decision notes that some plaintiffs — the archdioceses of Baltimore and of Oklahoma City — already are "wholly exempt" from the health care law's requirement to provide preventive care, including birth control and sterilization, because the law provides an exception for houses of worship. The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is morally wrong.

Other religious-based nonprofit organizations, such as colleges and charities, are not automatically exempt, but can qualify for a religious "accommodation" in which they don't have to provide contraception. In those cases, however, women can still get contraceptive coverage through a health plan administrator that can then seek government reimbursement.

But the judge agreed with the group's argument that even filling out the form to qualify for the accommodation "substantially burdens" their religious exercise. The organizations say that doing so makes them "the central cog" in providing the contraception to which they religiously object.

Women's health advocates lobbied for the contraceptive requirement, which they say helps women get access to important preventive medical care.

Lori said in a statement that the association was formed "to support Catholic employers in providing quality, cost-competitive, morally compliant health care benefits for their employees."

"[This] decision makes this a reality," Lori said.



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