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Judge stalls contraception insurance mandate for diocese

A federal judge has issued a temporary injunction preventing the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend from having to provide to its workers medical insurance that pays for contraception and sterilization services.

The ruling is at least a short-term victory for the church, which is resisting a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that takes effect Wednesday.

The injunction was granted Friday by Judge Jon DeGuilio in the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana in South Bend.

"Long game to play. It's a good first step. We'll wait to see what the final ruling is," Sean McBride, diocese communications director, said in a telephone interview.

"But we are pleased to get the injunctive relief, you bet," he said.

McBride said he believes the injunction will last until the court rules on the diocese's 2012 lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal government agencies that administer the health care law.

An HHS spokeswoman declined to comment and referred questions to the Department of Justice.

The diocese's suit alleges that the HHS birth-control mandate violates the church's rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act. The diocese contends it is exempted from the insurance mandate under the religious employer exclusion of the Affordable Care Act.

The injunction notes that the Roman Catholic Church believes that human life must be "protected absolutely from the moment of conception, that contraception is immoral and that the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion."

It further states that offering a health insurance plan that covers contraceptives "is inconsistent with plaintiffs' core moral and religious beliefs."

The plaintiffs in the case include the diocese and its entities, including Catholic Charities, Saint Anne Home and Retirement Community, Franciscan Alliance Inc., Specialized Physicians of Illinois LLC, the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and Our Sunday Visitor Inc., a Huntington publisher.

Together, the diocese and it entities employ nearly 17,000 full-time employees who may be eligible for employer-provided medical insurance. More than 14,800 work for the Franciscan Alliance, a health care system with 11 facilities in Indiana and two in Illinois.

The Affordable Care Act imposes per-employee fines on employers that do not follow the law.

The Obama administration had revised the contraception mandate so that it requires the insurers of religious groups and affiliates, and not the groups themselves, to pay for contraceptives for employees.

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