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Catholic heavyweights challenge Obama rule on contraception


Two major Catholic institutions filed lawsuits on Monday challenging the Obama administration's mandate that religiously affiliated employers offer health insurance for their workers that includes coverage for contraception.


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The University of Notre Dame filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging a Health and Human Services rule on contraceptives.

The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and the University of Notre Dame separately filed lawsuits in federal court challenging a Health and Human Services rule that would require them to offer coverage for contraception, the use of which runs contrary to Catholic teaching.

"For the first time in this country’s history, the government’s new definition of religious institutions suggests that some of the very institutions that put our faith into practice — schools, hospitals and social service organizations — are not ‘religious enough,'" said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, in a statement.

Father John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, said: "This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives."

(Jenkins emphasized that the university's suit was not intended to prevent access to contraception or to prevent the government from providing services.)

The University of Notre Dame is fighting the Obama administration's requirement for most employers to cover contraception – saying the decision violates religious freedoms. NBC's Pete Williams reports.

The contraceptive regulation erupted into a political firestorm in February, when Republicans seized on the proposed regulation as an example of a government "assault" on religious liberty.

In the face of public pressure, President Barack Obama announced a compromise in which employers could opt against including coverage for contraception, but insurers would be required to provide the option of coverage of those services to employees who wanted it.

The proposal became a hot-button political issue in much of February, especially as Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail sought to strengthen exemptions for religiously affiliated employers from regulations that conflict with their faith's official teaching.