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Catholic Groups Sue Obama Administration Over Birth Control Rule

So much for compromise.

A total of 43 Catholic educational, charitable and other entities filed a dozen lawsuits in federal court around the nation Monday, charging that the Obama Administration's rule requiring coverage of birth control in most health insurance plans violates their religious freedom.

Among the plaintiffs in the suits are the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America, as well as the Archdioceses of New York, Washington, Dallas, St. Louis and Pittsburgh.

They join several other, mostly smaller entities that have sued over the requirements for no-cost coverage of regular birth control, sterilization and so-called morning after emergency contraceptives. Because one of the ways those drugs may work is by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg into a woman's uterus, Catholics believe they can cause a very early abortion, even though they are classified by the Food and Drug Administration as contraceptives.

President Obama tried to defuse the controversy over the requirement back in February, after religious groups complained that the exemption from the requirement, which applied effectively only to actual houses of worship and groups that employ only members of a specific faith, was too narrow.

The president's proposal was not to expand the exemption, but to allow religious universities and charities to have their health insurers offer the coverage instead.

"The result will be that religious organizations won't have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly," Obama said. "But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women, and they'll no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries."

The president's Catholic allies were pleased, as were some of those who had been complaining. Even the president of Notre Dame, Father John Jenkins, called the announcement "a welcome step toward recognizing the freedom of religious institutions to abide by the principles that define their respective missions."

But over time, discussions over how to make it work appear to have broken down.

Even taking the actual benefits out of the hands of the religious organization "does not solve our moral dilemma," said Catholic University President John Garvey in a statement. Garvey noted that, "The only change the 'accommodation' offers is that the insurance company, rather than the University, would notify subscribers that the policy covers the mandated services." But the students and employees would still have to pay for "objectionable" prescriptions and services.

The Obama Administration declined comment on the suits, citing a policy of silence with regard to ongoing litigation.

But Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, which is among the groups most strongly backing the requirement for contraceptive coverage, said, "It is unbelievable that in the year 2012 we have to fight for access to birth control."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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