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Wheaton College Files Lawsuit Challenging Contraceptive Coverage Rules

Wheaton College Files Lawsuit Challenging Contraceptive Coverage Rules

July 19, 2012 — Wheaton College -- an Illinois-based Protestant evangelical university -- on Wednesday became the latest group to file a lawsuit challenging the federal contraceptive coverage rules, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 7/18).

The rules implement a provision in the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) that requires health plans to cover preventive services without copayments or deductibles. In February, the Obama administration announced that it would alter the rules so that religiously affiliated employers will not have to offer contraceptive coverage for their employees, but their health insurance companies will be required to provide no-cost coverage directly to women.

The move comes a day after a federal judge in Nebraska dismissed a lawsuit challenging the rules filed by seven states and three Catholic groups. The judge declared the suit premature because the plaintiffs do not face an immediate threat of having to offer contraceptive coverage, given that the Obama administration agreed to work with religiously affiliated entities and has given them an additional year -- until August 2013 -- to comply with the rules (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/18).

In addition, D.C. Federal District Court Judge James Boasberg on Wednesday threw out a similar suit filed by Belmont Abbey College, which was the first group to challenge the rule, saying the case had "no basis to proceed now."

The move raises the prospect that similar cases could be dismissed, according to the Wall Street Journal's "Washington Wire." Wheaton's suit was filed in the same court (Radnofsky, "Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 7/18).

Details of Latest Case

The lawsuit says that Wheaton's religious beliefs "prohibit it from deliberately providing insurance coverage for drugs, procedures or services inconsistent with its faith," even "if those items were paid for by an insurer or administrator and not by Wheaton College" (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 7/18).

According to the lawsuit, "Wheaton has a sincere religious objection to providing coverage for Plan B and Ella since it believes those drugs could prevent a human embryo -- which it understands to include a fertilized egg before it implants in the uterus -- from implanting in the wall of the uterus, causing the death of the embryo."

The lawsuit noted that Wheaton will be forced to comply with the rules and offer emergency contraception starting in January because its health plan already covers some forms of birth control and it had altered its plan earlier this year ("Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 7/18).

The Catholic University of America --which filed its own suit against the contraceptive coverage rules in May with Notre Dame University and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. -- is assisting Wheaton in the suit ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 7/18).

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Wheaton, said the case is one of 24 legal challenges that have been filed against the contraceptive coverage rules (Thomas, Chicago Sun-Times, 7/19).

Wheaton President Ryken, Catholic President Garvey Discuss 'Evangelical Catholic Stand on Liberty'

"American Evangelicals and Catholics have not always been the best of friends," but recent efforts by HHS to implement the contraceptive coverage rules "have brought us together to defend [religious] freedom," Wheaton College President Philip Ryken and Catholic University of America President John Garvey write in the Wall Street Journal.

"Our institutions do not agree on all points about HHS's mandated services," they write, noting that Wheaton College "does not, as Catholics do, view all forms of artificial contraception as immoral." However, both schools hold a "shared belief in the immorality of abortion" and that the contraceptive coverage requirement -- which includes the provision of EC -- violates that belief (Ryken/Garvey, Wall Street Journal, 7/18).

Judge Made 'Right Call' To Dismiss States' Contraceptive Coverage Lawsuits, Editorial States

A New York Times editorial commends the dismissal of the contraceptive coverage lawsuit filed by seven states and three Catholic groups, adding that the judge "did not buy the flimsy claim that the mandate would cause the states serious financial harm if it did go into effect." The editorial concludes, "Opponents of the mandate have heedlessly rushed into court to try to stop an important advance for women’s health without even waiting to see the generous (though legally unnecessary revisions) the administration has promised to further accommodate religious employers" (New York Times, 7/18).