Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn of the U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Ala. issued an order March 25 dismissing EWTN’s lawsuit challenging the government mandate that employee healthcare plans must provide coverage for contraception, voluntary sterilization procedures and abortion-inducing drugs.
According to a EWTN press release, Judge Blackburn’s order found that the “real prospect of harm from a concrete regulatory mandate” gives the Network adequate legal standing to file the lawsuit. However, because the government has promised to yet further amend the mandate’s rules, Judge Blackburn’s opinion held that the moving target of the mandate was not yet “ripe” for review.
The promise of future revisions to the mandate thereby makes the court reluctant to rule today. Blackburn’s opinion concludes that “in this case, common sense weighs in favor of withholding judicial review until the new regulations are created and finalized. At that point, if EWTN still has objections, it may then file suit.”
“While we are extremely disappointed that Judge Blackburn did not rule on the constitutional issues that were at the heart of the EWTN lawsuit, we are not surprised by the decision,’ said EWTN President & Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw. “In every lawsuit filed against the mandate, the government has made promise after promise to amend its unjust rules. As a result, nearly everyone, including the courts, is left waiting to see what the government might or might not do to address the serious issues of conscience that have been raised since the first set of rules were published over a year ago.
“EWTN has consistently maintained that contraception, voluntary sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs are not healthcare. EWTN cannot andwill not compromise on our strongly held beliefs on these moral issues,” Warsaw continued. “We are consulting with our legal team at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty about our available options as we go forward.”
EWTN filed its lawsuit Feb. 9, 2012 against the Department of Health & Human Services, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other government agencies seeking to stop the imposition of the contraception mandate as well as asking the court for a declaratory judgment that the mandate is unconstitutional. The Attorney General of the State of Alabama filed a motion to join EWTN March 22, 2012 as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Judge Blackburn’s decision essentially dismissed that motion as well.
At the time EWTN filed its lawsuit, Warsaw noted that the HHS mandate is particularly hard on Catholics “because Catholic organizations, such as hospitals, schools, social service agencies, media outlets and others, serve people regardless of their religious beliefs.” However, since the filing, EWTN has been heartened by the response of religious groups around the country, as well as those who simply believe in the constitutional principle of religious liberty.
Said Warsaw: “We are grateful for the prayers and support of the EWTN Family over the past year – as well as all those who have written in support of our lawsuit and in support of religious liberty – and we ask for continued prayers as we consider our response to the court’s decision.”