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Archdiocese wins injunction in birth control case

A federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction to the Archdiocese of St. Louis in its legal challenge to mandatory birth control coverage under the federal government’s health insurance mandate.

The archdiocese and Catholic Charities of St. Louis don’t have to immediately comply with the health care law’s requirement to pay for contraception as part of employees’ insurance coverage, U.S. District Judge John Ross ruled Monday. The judge said the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in challenging the mandate under laws protecting religious freedom.

The archdiocese released a statement Tuesday saying it was grateful for the ruling.

“This injunction simply preserves our God-given rights that should not have been infringed upon in the first place,” the statement said. “Any scenario that forces us to violate our moral convictions is unacceptable.”

The lawsuit — among dozens of similar suits by Catholic archdioceses, hospitals and groups nationwide — was initially filed in May 2012 against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the federal Labor and Treasury departments. The archdiocese and Catholic Charities of St. Louis sought the injunction before the July 1 start of a new coverage year under their employee group health insurance plans.

The injunction came just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that private companies such as Hobby Lobby with religious objections can opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control requirement.

Ross originally dismissed the Missouri lawsuit seven months after it was filed, citing the government’s intent to make changes in the law as well as the fact that religious and nonprofit groups were given more time to comply. But the two sides filed a new complaint in November 2013, after the government’s religious exemption wasn’t extended to affiliated groups such as religious schools, hospitals and charities.

In March, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled that certain nonprofit organizations in Georgia affiliated with the Catholic Church aren’t subject to the contraception mandate. And in June, a federal judge in Oklahoma City issued a similar temporary ban on complying with the contraception mandate in a suit filed by nearly 200 Catholic employers.

In his ruling Monday, Ross noted the “current legal uncertainty regarding the enforceability of the contraceptive mandate as to nonprofit organizations with religious objections.”

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