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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal judge has temporarily prevented the U.S. government from forcing nearly 200 Catholic employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives under President Barack Obama's health care law.
The Catholic Benefits Association filed a lawsuit in March alleging that a provision of the Affordable Care Act forced them to violate their religious objections to contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge David Russell of Oklahoma City granted an injunction that exempts members from any fines or penalties arising from not complying with the provision while their objections are litigated.
The association — which includes archdioceses, an insurance company and a nursing home across almost 2,000 Catholic parishes around the U.S. — believes in the Catholic teaching that their ministries should include health care to their employees. But members "also believe in the Catholic teaching that any artificial interference with the creation and nurture of new life is wrong," Russell said.
"The harm posed to these plaintiffs absent relief is quite tangible — they will either face severe monetary penalties or be required to violate their religious beliefs," he said.
An attorney for the government, trial attorney Bradley P. Humphreys of the U.S. Department of Justice, declined to comment Thursday on the judge's ruling.
Catholic officials praised the decision.
"The administration has already effectively granted exemptions from the mandate to various employers whose plans cover more than 130 million employees," Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley said in a statement. "We're simply seeking the same exemption for Catholic employers who have religious objections to the unjust requirements of the mandate."
President of the Catholic Benefits Association Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, said the group was formed to support Catholic employers in providing quality, cost-competitive and morally compliant health care benefits for their employees.
The owners of the Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts-and-crafts stores, won a favorable ruling in a similar lawsuit in the same federal court and at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Hobby Lobby does not want to provide insurance coverage for certain forms of contraception that it finds objectionable on religious grounds.
Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in March but have not handed down a ruling.