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Diocese’s Challenge to Cuomo Administration Abortion Mandate Heard in State Supreme Court in Albany Today

May 23, 2017

A backdoor attempt at abortion expansion by the Cuomo administration was challenged in court today by counsel representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and other plaintiffs. The Diocese initiated the lawsuit last year in New York State Supreme Court, Albany County (Index No. 02070-16), challenging the constitutionality of two abortion mandates placed on insurers by the Department of Financial Services (DFS) that have the effect of forcing religious and other employers to pay for abortions in employee health plans.

Oral arguments in the case were heard today by the Hon. Richard J. McNally at the Albany County Courthouse.

The Cuomo administration quietly added the “model language” forcing insurance plans to cover abortions even in Catholic-sponsored health care plans after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Abortion Expansion Act was stymied in the state legislature, where it was vigorously opposed by Catholic and other religious organizations.

“These coercive mandates are an attack on innocent human life, but also an attack on religious liberty and the democratic process itself,” said Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany. “Whatever its motivations, the Cuomo administration has shown a troubling disregard for religious faith and practice, and the rights of conscience of our state’s citizens.”

“In oral arguments this morning, the attorney for the State referred to the abortion mandate as an ‘incidental burden’ on religious organizations in the balance of providing healthcare to employees. There is nothing incidental about the taking of an unborn child’s life, and we are appalled that the State would label it as such. We will always uphold the value and dignity of every human life from conception until natural death, and will not be swayed by the drumbeat of the culture of death,” Bishop Scharfenberger added.

The suit refers to two distinct mandates on insurance providers, both of which were implemented absent any legislative or regulatory process. In one, DFS (which regulates the insurance industry) issued “model language” to insurers, requiring that their individual and small group health plans, including those sponsored by religious entities, include coverage of abortions.

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, 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.