October 29, 2014 — A federal judge on Tuesday granted Ave Maria University and Ave Maria School of Law's request for a preliminary injunction against the federal contraceptive coverage rules under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), the Fort Myers News-Press reports (Wozniak, Fort Myers News-Press, 10/28).
Officials at the Florida university initially challenged the contraceptive coverage requirements in February 2012, but a federal judge dismissed the case because the federal government was continuing to work with the school and the final contraceptive coverage rules had not been released. Ave Maria sued again after HHS finalized the rules, arguing that the rules' accommodation that allows religious not-for-profits to avoid providing the coverage directly to their employees still violates its religious beliefs (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/4/13).
The accommodation aims to ensure that enrollees in health plans at not-for-profits with religious objections still have access to contraceptive coverage benefits under the ACA. The accommodation enables such not-for-profits to notify their insurer or third-party administrator of their objection so the insurer or third-party administrator can facilitate contraceptive coverage for members of such health plans.
In August, in an effort to address ongoing court challenges, HHS announced a new rule that maintains the accommodation but creates a second way for those entities to provide notice of their objections. Under the new option, religiously affiliated not-for-profits can send a letter to HHS stating that they object to offering contraceptive coverage in their health plans. Such organizations still have the original option of filling out a form to send to the insurer or third-party administrator if they prefer (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/18).
Ave Maria University President Jim Towey said the accommodation still would cause the university to be "complicit" in providing contraception to its employees (Fort Myers News-Press, 10/28).
Preliminary Injunction Ruling
The temporary injunction ruling from Judge James Moody of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida allows the university and law school to avoid fines for violating the contraceptive coverage rules while the case continues in court. Without the injunction, the schools would have been subject to the fines on Nov. 1 (Viebeck, The Hill, 10/28).
Towey estimated that the fines for not offering contraceptive coverage to the university's approximately 170 full-time employees would have been about $17 million annually. An Ave Maria Law School spokesperson did not know how much the fines would be for its 68 full-time employees (Fort Myers News-Press, 10/28).
Judge Grants Ohio Business Exemption From Contraceptive Coverage Rules
In related news, a federal judge last week ruled that a small family-owned business in Ohio is not required to comply with the ACA's contraceptive coverage requirements, the Dayton Daily News reports.
Johnson Welded Products in April 2013 filed a lawsuit against the requirements, citing religious objections (Torry, Dayton Daily News, 10/28).
According to the AP/Miami Herald, the ruling in favor of the company was expected following the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that closely held corporations cannot be required to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees if the corporations' owners have religious objections (AP/Miami Herald, 10/28).