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Federal court again rules against Notre Dame in HHS lawsuit

| Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has once again rejected Notre Dame’s request for relief from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring health insurance to cover contraception, the latest setback for the University in a three-year-long legal battle, according to court documents released Wednesday.

On March 9, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court, asking it to revisit its Feb. 24, 2014 decision that the University does not qualify for an injunction against the mandate that requires all employers to provide contraception to their employees as part of their health care program.

In light of the Supreme Court’s June 30, 2014 ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, a for-profit institution also seeking relief from the mandate, the higher court vacated the circuit court’s decision and ordered the case to be reconsidered.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the 7th Circuit voted 2-1 against Notre Dame, the same margin of the original decision.

Judge Richard Posner wrote the opinion for the majority, which stated the University’s health care providers, Aetna and Meritain, not Notre Dame, were the institutions responsible for providing birth control to employees, and the contract between the University and the companies did not mean Notre Dame was still acting as a “conduit” for contraceptive care.

“Although Notre Dame is the final arbiter of its religious beliefs, it is for the courts to determine whether the law actually forces Notre Dame to act in a way that would violate those beliefs,” Posner wrote. “As far as we can determine from the very limited record, the only ‘conduit’ is between the companies and Notre Dame students and staff; the university has stepped aside.”

The path forward for the University, which has now had its request for an injunction denied three times, once by the district court and twice by the circuit court, remains unclear.

“We are reviewing the 50 pages of opinions and weighing our options,” University spokesperson Paul Browne said in a statement.
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