May 10, 2016
For immediate release
Albany Diocese Seeks Reversal of Unconstitutional Abortion Insurance Mandates
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, together with other plaintiffs, has filed a lawsuit, against the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) and a number of health insurance companies challenging the constitutionality of two mandates placed on insurers (without any legislative or regulatory enactment) that have the effect of forcing religious and other employers to pay for abortions in employee health plans.
In a complaint filed May 4, 2016, in State Supreme Court, County of Albany, plaintiffs charge that the mandates represent “an invidious governmental coercion of religious institutions, employers and individuals, and, if unchecked, will result in further dangerous incursions on religious freedom and liberty of conscience.”
“Anyone of good will who values religious liberty or our country’s cherished freedoms should be deeply concerned by the actions of the state,” said Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany. “The Department of Financial Services, without any authority by the legislature, has taken it upon itself to force religious organizations and individuals with strong conscientious objection to abortion to fund this procedure which, in every case, kills a developing unique human person. We simply cannot live with this policy, and unfortunately have been left with no choice but to bring this action.
“I am proud to stand with my brothers and sisters in an ecumenical expression of unity in challenging this unconstitutional infringement on religious faith and practice.”
The suit refers to two distinct mandates on insurance providers. In one, DFS (which regulates the insurance industry) issued “model language” to insurers, requiring that their individual and small group health plans include coverage of so-called “therapeutic” and “non-therapeutic” abortions. The suit charges, “The Model Language Abortion Mandate directly coerces religious employers, religiously-affiliated employers, objecting secular employers and individuals to fund, provide and cooperate with the morally offensive procedure...”
A second mandate, which was previously undisclosed by DFS, only came to light during plaintiffs’ communications with the department objecting to the “model language” mandate. In the undisclosed mandate, plaintiffs charge, abortion coverage “is encrypted in health insurance contracts under the rubric of ‘medically necessary’ surgery. This hidden coverage was never disclosed to plaintiffs or other employers who may have conscience, moral or religious objections to abortion.”
Plaintiffs seek judicial intervention for both declaratory judgment on a number of state and federal constitutional grounds, as well as injunctive relief.
All of the plaintiffs have deeply held religious and moral objections to abortion. Some are religious organizations, while one is a lay employee of a religious organization, and one is a privately held business.
In addition to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, plaintiffs include the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg; the Trustees of the (Episcopal) Diocese of Albany; the Sisterhood of St. Mary (an order of Anglican/Episcopal nuns); Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Brooklyn; Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany; Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Ogdensburg; St. Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church Society of Amherst; First Bible Baptist Church, Rochester; Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Albany; Teresian House Nursing Home, Albany; Ms. Renée Morgiewicz, an employee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany; and Murnane Building Contractors, Plattsburgh.
Defendants are Maria T. Vullo, acting superintendent of DFS; Capital District Physicians Health Plan; Blue Shield of Northeastern, NY; UnitedHealthCare of New York; MVP Health Care; Excellus Health Plan; and Independent Health Association.