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Justice Dept. Says Wheaton College is Eligible for Delayed Enforcement of Contraceptive Coverage Rules, Requests Suit Dismissal

Justice Dept. Says Wheaton College is Eligible for Delayed Enforcement of Contraceptive Coverage Rules, Requests Suit Dismissal

August 13, 2012 — The Department of Justice on Friday requested that a judge dismiss an evangelical university's lawsuit against the federal contraceptive coverage rules because the school will not be immediately penalized under the policy, CQ HealthBeat reports.

The lawsuit, filed by Wheaton College in Illinois, alleges that because the school believes emergency contraception is the equivalent of an abortion, having to abide by the contraceptive coverage rules being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148would violate its religious freedom (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 8/10).

In February, the Obama administration announced that it would alter the rules so that religiously affiliated employers that object to covering contraceptives -- such as some Christian universities -- 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/19). Religiously affiliated entities will have a one-year "safe harbor" period before the policy is enforced.

In a request for a preliminary injunction that was filed on Aug. 1, Wheaton argued that it is not eligible for the one-year delay because its plan covers other prescription contraceptives and it also unintentionally covered EC temporarily.

DOJ's Response

DOJ lawyers said Wheaton will qualify for the one-year delay and "[t]he government has made clear" that an institution will not be disqualified from the safe harbor because it covers other contraceptives.

DOJ also noted that because the next plan year for the college's health insurance begins on Jan. 1, 2013, Wheaton would not be in danger of penalties until Jan. 1, 2014. In the meantime, HHS plans to issue a final rule regarding religiously affiliated institutions, the filing added.

A hearing on the motions is set for Aug. 23 in Washington, D.C. (CQ HealthBeat, 8/10).