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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Federal judge orders halt on health care provision infringing on religious rights

Franciscan Alliance, other groups’ legal challenge supported by court ruling

MISHAWAKA, Ind. In 2012, the U.S. government began implementing its requirement that certain employers, who provide a health plan to their employees include, free-of-charge, certain women’s reproductive preventative services including abortifacients, contraceptives and contraceptive counseling.

As a not-for-profit dedicated to religious beliefs that do not permit such practices, Franciscan Alliance was exempted under a “Safe Harbor” from providing such services until Jan. 1, 2014. Because of this deadline, Franciscan Alliance joined with other similarly situated corporations to seek injunctive relief in the federal court system to preserve its protections under the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

On Friday, Dec. 27, the Hon. Jon Deguilio, U.S. district judge for the Northern District Court of Indiana , issued an order granting a motion for preliminary injunction and enjoining the defendants, the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Treasury and their agents and officers and representatives from applying or enforcing against the plaintiffs: Franciscan Alliance, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc., Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc., Saint Anne Home and Retirement Community of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc., Specialty Physicians of Illinois, LLC, the University of Saint Francis, and Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., or their employee insurance plans.

This also included their plan brokers, plan insurers, or third party administrators, the requirements set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-13(a)(4) and 45 C.F.R. § 147.130(a)(1)(iv), corresponding guidelines to provide, pay for, or otherwise facilitate access to the FDA approved contraceptive methods, abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization procedures, and related patient education and counseling.

The court recognized the likelihood of plaintiffs to prevail in a permanent injunction action based upon the preservation of their deeply held religious beliefs under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It further noted that the federal regulations exempted churches from the mandated requirements but the plaintiffs as not-for- profit organizations, providing charitable services were  only afforded an accommodation. This would have required them to “facilitate and serve as the conduit through which objectionable contraceptive products and services are ultimately provided to their employees, in violation of their unquestionably sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Finally, the judge’s ruling noted that by granting exemption to churches but requiring the Catholic not-for-profitable organizations to act as facilitator and conduit for the provision of objectionable services was, in fact, having the effect of dividing the Catholic Church into two separate entities,

despite their overlapping membership and leadership and separating those inside the church’s
walls from those engaging in the fulfillment of the religious and charitable missions of the Diocese of the Catholic Church.

"We simply asked that the government not impose its values and policies on plaintiffs, in direct violation of our religious beliefs," said Kevin Leahy, Franciscan Alliance president and chief executive officer. “We deeply appreciate the skillful and thoughtful counsel of Jones Day, which coordinated our collective legal challenge.

“Franciscan Alliance is proud of its heritage as a Not-For-Profit Catholic Health Care Corporation dedicated to is Mission of Continuing Christ’s Ministry in Our Franciscan Tradition,” said Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of Franciscan Alliance’s Board of Trustees  “We have adhered to the tenets of the Catholic faith and continue to look to our sponsor, the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, for guidance in continuing its 138-year history of providing health care to those we are privileged to serve in the United States.”

About Franciscan Alliance
The Franciscan Alliance healthcare ministry began in Lafayette, Ind., in 1875. Today, Franciscan Alliance is one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the Midwest with 13 hospital campuses, 20,000 employees and a number of nationally recognized Centers of Health Care Excellence. Hospitals include: Franciscan St. Anthony Health- Crown Point; Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Michigan City.; Franciscan St. Elizabeth Health- Crawfordsville; Franciscan St. Elizabeth Health- Lafayette East; Franciscan St. Elizabeth Health-Lafayette Central; Franciscan St. Francis Health-Carmel; Franciscan St. Francis Health- Indianapolis; Franciscan St.

Francis Health-Mooresville; Franciscan St. James Health-Chicago Heights, Ill.; Franciscan St. James Health- Olympia Fields, Ill.; Franciscan St. Margaret Health-Hammond; Franciscan St. Margaret Health-Dyer; and Franciscan Healthcare-Munster.