Arguments continue over church, health care law

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Lawyers for the federal government and two Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses made their final arguments Wednesday in a challenge to the federal health care overhaul law.

The Pittsburgh and Erie dioceses object to the law’s requirement that birth control and abortion coverage be offered in employee health care plans and are asking U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab to block enforcement of it while the debate plays out in the legal system. There are numerous similar challenges in other states, and many legal experts expect the issue to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Department of Justice claims that a plan to have third parties provide and pay for services such as birth control and abortion wouldn’t infringe on religious freedom rights.

Justice Department lawyer Brad Humphreys said Wednesday that it’s up to Congress and the courts to decide whether the law imposes a substantial burden on religious freedom.

But Mickey Pohl, one of the lawyers representing the dioceses, said the government shouldn’t make that decision for the churches.

There are numerous legal points at play in the case.

For example, religious groups who employ and serve people of their own faith — such as churches — are exempt from the new law. But affiliated groups, such as Catholic Charities and schools, must comply.

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik testified Tuesday that he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he signed a form that allowed the disputed services to be provided to employees, even by a third party. Zubik said the church is being asked to violate an important belief and a matter of conscience.

Schwab plans to rule by the end of the month.

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