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Geneva College, Hobby Lobby lawsuits against contraceptive mandate gaining positive resultscomment (0)

July 18, 2013

Geneva College, a Christian school in Beaver Falls, Pa., has become the first nonprofit to receive a preliminary injunction against the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, while Christian-owned Hobby Lobby also scored a significant victory in its legal challenge of the mandate.

Geneva, affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, objects to providing the federally mandated insurance coverage to employees and students that includes Plan B (the so-called “morning-after” pill), which can prevent implantation of tiny embryos, and ella (the “week-after” pill), which — in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 — can act even after implantation to end the life of a child.

U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti originally had dismissed Geneva’s lawsuit but then reinstated it in May after the school presented evidence that it was already experiencing the effects of the mandate.

She first dismissed Geneva’s suit on the grounds that the federal government hadn’t finalized the mandate and so the college didn’t have standing to sue. Geneva asked the judge to reconsider, presenting evidence that the school was already considering whether to drop its student health plan for the next school year based on its objections to the mandate as it stands. Health and Human Services’ (HHS) proposals on changing the mandate haven’t given the school any real hope that it can comply without violating its biblical principles.

The school was to notify students by May 13 if it was dropping its insurance plan. Conti agreed the college was suffering the effects of the mandate and reinstated the lawsuit. 

Several other schools such as Wheaton College and Franciscan University have watched judges dismiss their lawsuits against the mandate on the same grounds Conti used to dismiss Geneva’s initially. But Conti noted those schools’ insurance plans weren’t necessarily under the same time crunch as Geneva’s. 

The mandate, part of regulations implementing the 2010 health care reform law, requires nearly all employers to carry insurance plans that cover drugs defined by the federal government as contraceptives, even if they can cause chemical abortions.

The rule mandates plans to underwrite sterilization for women and related “education and counseling.”

The Obama administration proposed a rule change earlier this year to address conscience objections to the abortion/contraception mandate. The latest regulations simplify the meaning of “religious employer” from previous guidelines, according to HHS, but still include only churches and other “houses of worship” as eligible under that definition for exemption. 

Under the accommodation for other non-profits that object to the abortion/contraception mandate, they “will not have to contract, arrange, pay for or refer contraceptive coverage,” HHS said. In an insured health plan, the insurance company will pay for contraceptives, and in a self-insured plan, a third-party administrator will provide or arrange such payments, according to HHS.

Those arrangements fail to relieve the conscientious objections of nonprofits, critics said. 

The abortion/contraception requirement is the target of 61 federal lawsuits and will be implemented for Christian institutions and other nonprofit organizations not falling in the “religious employers” category beginning Jan. 1. It will take effect when each organization’s health plan begins a new year. 

The mandate’s start-up date for for-profit organizations was Aug. 1, 2012.

However 32 of the lawsuits filed are by for-profits. Included is Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned arts and crafts chain. 

And while the final rules issued on June 28 do not provide a religious liberty accommodation to for-profit companies, Hobby Lobby did gain a significant victory in its legal challenge the same day. A federal court blocked enforcement of the mandate and its penalties against the chain. The temporary restraining order prevented the mandate from going into effect July 1 and spared Hobby Lobby a penalty that could have reached $1.3 million a day.

The next step in the lawsuit by Hobby Lobby and its sister Christian bookstore chain, Mardel, is a July 19 hearing regarding their request for a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the mandate while the court case continues.

The order from Joe Heaton, federal judge for the Western District of Oklahoma, came only a day after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled Hobby Lobby and Mardel had demonstrated they probably would prevail in showing their religious freedom had been infringed on by the mandate. The eight judges for the 10th Circuit also instructed the lower court to reconsider whether it should grant an injunction.

Courts have granted injunctions or restraining orders to 22 for-profit corporations blocking enforcement of the mandate.

In related news, the lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act’s entire employer mandate filed by Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., was tossed out July 11 by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia, according to Christianity Today.

Liberty University’s lawsuit is the only one of this nature, and school officials said they planned to appeal the 3–0 ruling. Courts also have dismissed 18 of the other nonprofit lawsuits, citing procedural issues.

(Compiled from TAB, BP, Christianity Today stories)

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