AVE MARIA, Fla. - For more than two years, Ave Maria University has been fighting the Federal Government for an exemption to the Affordable Care Act mandate that requires employers provide free birth control to employees.
The school's first lawsuit was dismissed last March, but it filed a new lawsuit in August; and after Monday's Hobby Lobby decision, the school thinks it has the momentum it needs to move forward.
"I think most Americans don't want to see the Little Sisters of the Poor and Ave Maria University coerced into violating their religious beliefs," Ave Maria University President Jim Towey said.
Towey says the school's beliefs will be violated if it's forced to provide free contraceptive to its 170 employees.
"Ave Maria University is a Catholic university and we follow the teachings of the church," Towey said.
The university says it hopes the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby will have a positive effect on its own lawsuit. That lawsuit has been filed in the Middle District of Florida, but a judge suspended action on it pending the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case.
"I think the court today made very clear the Federal Government has the ability to provide free contraception without requiring the Little Sisters of the Poor and Ave Maria University to do the work for them," Towey said.
For Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, the decision is very disappointing.
"It means that some bosses will be able to interfere with their employees' access to birth control," Barbara Zdravecky, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said. "We really believe that the decision to use birth control should be between a woman and her doctor, not her boss."
Planned Parenthood estimates birth control costs a woman about $600 a year and says that taking away that coverage will do more harm than good.
"Making birth control benefits available to all women reduces the rate of abortion nationwide," Zdravecky said.
Ave Maria University says it is now pushing forward with its lawsuit. The school's safe harbor exemption expires on October 31, so if no settlement is reached by then the school says it will have to pay crippling fines or be forced to violate its religious beliefs.