WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – Christian colleges and other non-profit organizations won a major victory Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the Obama administration can require them to offer health care plans to their employees that cover contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
The justices didn't announce when oral arguments will take place, although they likely will schedule them for early next year, with a ruling expected by the end of June.
At issue is a requirement by the Department of Health and Human Services that non-profits, as part of Obamacare, provide health care plans that cover not only Plan B and other so-called morning-after pills that can prevent the implantation of an embryo, but also cover drugs like "ella" that can kill the embryo post-implantation.
Supreme Court rules require the support of at least four of the nine justices to hear a case.
Pro-life groups have targeted the HHS rule ever since it was announced. Among the plaintiffs are GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Nazarene University, Geneva College, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Mid-America Christian University, Truett-McConnell College, Texas Baptist University, Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington and Priests for Life. A total of seven cases, on appeal from lower circuits, comprise the one Supreme Court case.
Failing to follow the rules and offer the required insurance could result in millions of dollars in fines for each entity.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a pro-life legal firm, is representing Geneva College and four Oklahoma Christian universities.
"The government has no legitimate basis for forcing faith-based organizations to be involved in providing abortion pills to their employees or students," ADF Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor said in a statement. "These Christian colleges simply want to abide by the very faith they espouse and teach. They should not be forced to choose between giving up their fundamental freedoms and paying financial penalties. That is not a choice Americans should have to face."
Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, applauded the justices for taking up the issue.
"It is sad that we have had to spend so much of the last several years fighting for the most basic of religious liberty protections, but the Supreme Court has the opportunity to defend the consciences of millions of Americans in what is sure to be a crucial case in the preservation of religious liberty," Moore said in a statement. "A government that can violate the consciences of some can easily attempt to violate the conscience of anyone. My prayer is that the Supreme Court will intervene in this administration's cavalier disregard for soul freedom that forces a decision between obedience to God and compliance with a regulatory state."
The White House claims the schools and other non-profits have been accommodated so their religious liberties are not violated, and that the insurance companies – not the schools or non-profits – are the ones paying for the drug coverage. To be eligible for this exception, each school or non-profit must fill out a form, which then leads to coverage of the drugs by the insurances companies.
Attorneys Noel J. Francisco and Paul M. Pohl, who are representing Catholic entities, say the Obama administration's accommodation falls short.
"This supposed fix does not accommodate the plaintiffs' religious beliefs at all," they wrote at NationalReview.com. "It still forces them to hire and maintain a contract with an insurance company that will provide the objectionable coverage to their employees in connection with an employer-based health plan. Maintaining this relationship is exactly what the plaintiffs find religiously objectionable: They believe that it makes them complicit in sin to offer their employees a health plan that comes with contraceptive and abortifacient coverage. Indeed, by filing the form to invoke the 'accommodation,' the plaintiffs effectively amend their own health plans to make it possible for the objectionable coverage to be provided by their own insurance company."
ADF also says the accommodation is inadequate.
"The form directly involves the Christian colleges in providing abortifacients in multiple ways by, for example, (1) altering their health plans to allow for the provision of such drugs or devices, (2) requiring them to notify or identify to the government who their insurers or third-party administrators [TPA] are so that they can provide the drugs or devices on the colleges' behalf, (3) officially authorizing their TPA as a plan and claims administrator solely for the purpose of providing the items, and (4) requiring them to identify and contract with a TPA that is willing to provide the drugs and devices to which they religiously object," ADF said.