General Articles

Forty-three Catholic Organizations File Suit Against Contraceptive Coverage Legislation

Thirteen of the 195 Catholic dioceses in the United States—including the Archdioceses of New York, St. Louis, and Washington—joined with 30 other Catholic organizations to file lawsuits over President Barack Obama’s decision to require that a religiously affiliated organization’s insurance provider must provide the institution’s employees with contraceptive coverage at no charge. The lawsuits were filed on May 21, 2012 in a coordinated effort in 12 judicial districts against the United States Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor, and Treasury.[1] Other complainants in the lawsuit include the Catholic University of America, The University of Notre Dame, and Catholic Charities. Those 43 organizations join the at least 11 Catholic and evangelical organizations that already had previously filed suit against the administration.[2]

The requirement that insurance companies, and not the religiously affiliated institutions themselves, provide contraceptive coverage is a compromise measure adopted by the Obama administration following backlash that ensued from the administration’s decision to require religiously affiliated organizations to provide contraceptive coverage, with the exception of churches.[3] Following the passage of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148), commonly referred to as health care reform legislation, HHS requested that the independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) “review what preventive services are necessary for women’s health and well-being and should be considered in the development of comprehensive guidelines for preventive services for women” in order to determine which women’s preventive services should be covered.[4] The IOM recommended, and HHS agreed, that among the preventive services that must be covered by insurance with no out-of-pocket costs are contraceptive methods approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and contraceptive counseling.[5]

The contraceptive coverage provision prompted backlash from religious groups, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. The coverage mandate originally would have required most employers who provide health insurance for their employees to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. Only “religious employers”—non-profit organizations that have the inculcation of religious values as their primary purpose, employ mostly people who share its religious tenets, and largely serve people who share their religious tenets—would have been exempt from that mandate.[6] After protests from religious leaders as well as the heads of religiously affiliated institutions such as universities, hospitals, and social service agencies, the Obama administration modified the rule to exempt religiously affiliated institutions from the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage. Rather, an objecting institution’s insurance provider will be required to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods without charging an additional premium.

Legal scholars criticized the lawsuits as being premature. For one, the organizations cannot show any hardship they have undergone, as the contraceptive coverage does not go into effect until August 2013.[7] In addition, the Supreme Court currently is weighing the constitutionality of the health care reform legislation. Should the Court deem health care reform unconstitutional, the lawsuits would be moot as the law mandating contraceptive coverage no longer would be valid.[8]

For more information on the final rule regarding contraceptive coverage, please see SIECUS’ previous policy update, Obama Administration Issues, Then Amends, Final Rule on Mandatory Insurance Coverage of Women’s Preventive Services.

Click here to view all May 2012 Policy Updates

1 Michelle Boorstein, “D.C. archdiocese, other Catholic groups file suit against birth-control mandate,” Washington Post, 20 May 2012, accessed 2 June 2012,
2 Laurie Goodstein, “Catholics File Suits on Contraceptive Coverage,” New York Times, 21 May 2012, accessed 2 June 2012,
3 Robert Pear, “Obama Reaffirms Insurers Must Cover Contraception,” New York Times, 20 January 2012, accessed 1 February 2012,
4 Committee on Preventive Services for Women, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, Clinical Preventive Services for Women: Closing the Gaps (Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine, 2011), 1.
5 “Women’s Preventive Services: Required Health Plan Coverage Guidelines,” United States Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, accessed 29 August 2011,
6 45 C.F.R. §147.130(a)(1)(iv)(B)
7 “D.C. archdiocese, other Catholic groups file suit against birth-control mandate,” ibid.
8 Ibid.