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Priests for Life's Father Frank Pavone speaks at the Rally for Religious Freedom held in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on May 8, 2014. American Life League
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Priests for Life to defy court order requiring it to comply with HHS mandate

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

Priests for Life says it will defy a court order to participate in the Obama administration's contraception and abortifacient coverage mandate.

On Friday, the D.C.-based U.S. Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 against Priests for Life's lawsuit against the mandate, saying an administration compromise would allow the Catholic group to maintain its religious liberty. Within hours, Priests for Life national director Frank Pavone said that "Priests for Life will not obey the HHS mandate."

“To ask a group of priests to cooperate in the government’s plan to expand access to birth control and abortion-inducing drugs is about as contrary to religious freedom as you can get," said Pavone.

In its lawsuit, Priests for Life argued that the administration's accommodation to non-profit groups was inadequate to protect religious liberty. The accommodation requires non-profits that oppose the mandate for religious reasons to fill out paperwork that would "trigger" a group's insurance company to pay for the coverage.

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Like its fellow Catholic organization Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life -- which consists of celibate men -- argued that the accommodation still caused the organization to involve other people in mortal sin. The "trigger," claim the groups, would include the non-profits asking others to cover the costs of coverage, and thus the non-profits would be assisting in sin.

The court, however, ruled that neither Priests for Life nor the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington could be exempted from the mandate. "That bit of paperwork is more straight-forward and minimal than many that are staples of nonprofit organizations' compliance with law in the modern administrative state," Judge Cornelia Pillard wrote, on behalf of the three judges.  

"Religious nonprofits that opt out are excused from playing any role in the provision of contraceptive services, and they remain free to condemn contraception in the clearest terms," wrote Pillard. Additionally, said the ruling, the mandate "promote[s] women's equal access to health care appropriate to their needs" and therefore "serves women's health, the health of children, and women's equal enjoyment of their right to personal autonomy without unwanted pregnancy." 

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the mandate violated the religious liberty of the owners of two for-profit businesses, saying that the government had less intrusive methods of promoting its goal of greater contraceptive and abortion access. Last week's ruling is one of the rare times a court has ruled in favor of the government's argument.

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