Ala. AG joins Catholic network's birth control mandate lawsuit

File Photo: Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange
File Photo: Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alabama's attorney general has brought the state into a Catholic broadcaster's lawsuit against the Obama administration's mandate that religious organizations pay for their workers' birth control.

Attorney General Luther Strange filed a motion Thursday to make the state a party to the case. He says the mandate violates the Alabama Constitution's religious freedom amendment.

Birmingham-based EWTN Global Catholic Network filed suit in February over the rules. Network general counsel John Manos says the mandate requires religious organizations to pay for abortion drugs and sterilization in violation of their faith.

Manos says the State of Alabama's entry into the lawsuit is a major step toward victory.

Most employers and insurers have to cover birth control under the nation's new health care law. Church-related institutions must comply after a one-year grace period.

Attorney General Strange and representatives of EWTN and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty held a news conference where they discussed the motion and Strange's complaint. The state wants to intervene in a federal lawsuit challenging the Obama Administration's mandate for contraception coverage.

The Attorney General says the mandate violates federal law and would require state officials to regulate insurance in violation of Alabama law: "The freedom of religion, and to believe as one sees fit, is our 'first freedom' under the United States Constitution," Strange said. "The people of Alabama have recognized the importance of this freedom and have enshrined it in their Constitution as well.  Alabama law does not allow anyone to be forced to offer a product that is against his or her religious beliefs or conscience."

EWTN is the world's largest Catholic media network, and says it objected to the contraception mandate on religious grounds. Under the mandate, EWTN and other religious employers and insurers say they are forced to provide health coverage for services and procedures that violate their religious beliefs and consciences.

The Obama Administration has offered a compromise that would require insurers, not religious employers, to pay for contraception coverage. Strange and EWTN say that's not a compromise at all adding that, the move would force the violation of religious beliefs, causing fines or the exit of the employers from the health insurance market. "Such an event will leave persons without insurance, forcing the State to pick up the tab.  The State's indigent care costs are likely to go up, as are the State's Medicaid rolls."

Copyright 2012  WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed.