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Federal Judge Reinstates Pa. College Contraceptive Coverage Lawsuit

Federal Judge Reinstates Pa. College Contraceptive Coverage Lawsuit

May 13, 2013 — A federal judge on Wednesday reinstated a 2012 lawsuit filed by a Pennsylvania college challenging the federal contraceptive coverage rules, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Mandak, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/9).

The rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require that most health plans cover contraceptive services. Religious entities such as churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirements. In February, the Obama administration proposed an accommodation for religiously affiliated employers that would ensure that their health plans do not have to pay for contraceptive coverage. However, the accommodation was not extended to for-profit businesses (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/27).

Original Lawsuit

Alliance Defending Freedom -- a Christian civil rights group -- last year filed a lawsuit on behalf of Geneva College, arguing that the federal rules requiring the school to provide certain forms of contraception is "directly at odds" with the school's religious values. The school was founded by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.

Geneva sought an exemption from the rules, contending that the rules violate federal law and the First Amendment rights of the college and other religiously affiliated institutions.

However, the lawsuit was dismissed at the time because a federal judge agreed with the Department of Justice that the college was not suffering immediate harm, because federal officials had announced the regulations would be changed to accommodate institutions against parts of the law they found morally objectionable.

Details of Reinstatement

U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti decided to reinstate the lawsuit because Geneva's May 13 deadline to inform students about whether they will be dropped from the school's insurance plan precedes the federal government's Aug. 1 deadline to finalize the disputed rule.

"The new facts set forth by Geneva illustrate that [it] must decide now whether to continue providing a student health insurance plan and it must make that decision in advance of defendants' Aug. 1, 2013, deadline to publish final rules," Flowers Conti wrote, adding, "With the contingency thus removed, Geneva is now suffering a real and immediate harm that [is] ripe for adjudication."

Alliance Defending Freedom praised the decision, noting that allowing the case to proceed will "ensure that the government doesn't punish people of faith for making decisions consistent with that faith."

The Department of Justice did not comment on the announcement (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/9).