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Belmont Abbey Sues Over Health Care Mandate

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Belmont Abbey College is suing the federal government over a birth control mandate in the overhaul of health care legislation that takes place next year. The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employee healthcare plans to cover preventative services. These include mammograms, prenatal care, and cervical cancer screenings. But it also mandates free FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and emergency contraceptive drugs. This is the problem for Belmont Abbey, a Catholic college in Gaston County, according to attorney Lori Windham. "What's important to remember about this mandate is that it forces Belmont Abbey to pay for these coverages," says Windham. "If people want to go out and obtain these medications or other things on their own, then that's their business. We are simply saying that the monks of Belmont Abbey should not be forced to pay for medications that are against their religious beliefs." Windham is with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit law firm in Washington D.C. that represents the school. The lawsuit in the US District Court in Washington asks the court to exempt Belmont Abbey from having to comply with this rule. Otherwise, the school faces fines of $1400 per employee. Belmont Abbey doesn't qualify for the health care law's religious exemption, because it is more than a religious school. It is also a liberal arts college. The issue has the attention of the National Women's Law Center. The group's Judy Waxman says Belmont Abbey is like any other employer. "The college administration is certainly free to follow their own conscience and to follow their own moral compass," says Waxman. "They just can't impose it on other people." The mandate takes effect next August.