Wheaton College joins suit opposing contraception mandate
BY MONIFA THOMAS Health Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org July 18, 2012 11:36AM
Updated: August 20, 2012 11:44AM
Joining several other religious institutions, Wheaton College has filed a lawsuit against President Barack Obama administration’s so-called contraception mandate.
On Monday, the west suburban evangelical college joined Catholic University of America in its suit, filed in May, against federal Health and Human Services (HHS) in the U.S. District Court for District of Columbia.
The suit opposes Health and Human Services “preventive services” requirement that most employers provide health insurance that covers the cost of contraception and sterilization procedures to their employees as part of the health care law Obama signed, or else face a fine.
Though Wheaton College has been concerned about the mandate for months, Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Graham Ryken said the decision to file the suit came after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act in June.
“We’re very clear on the sanctity of life, and this insurance mandate is against our conscience,” Ryken said.
The alliance marks the first time that Catholics and evangelicals have worked together to oppose a regulation in court.
Wheaton College and the Catholic University of America disagree on the issue of contraception — Wheaton College allows them for married people. But Ryken said he is concerned about being forced to offer morning-after pills because it can induce abortion.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm, is representing Wheaton. Becket said a total of 24 lawsuits have been filed challenging the mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
HHS had no comment specifically about the lawsuit.
But spokesman Keith Maley said the administration is developing additional accommodations in response to concerns raised by religious organizations that do not want to pay for, refer for or provide contraception.
“We will consider the comments and suggestions received from interested stakeholders before finalizing and implementing policies that respect religious liberty while ensuring millions of women have access to recommended preventive services without cost-sharing,” Maley said.
The policy already ensures that if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to directly offer her contraceptive care free of charge.
That, however, is considered a “shell game” by many religious organizations.
Freshman are expected to arrive at Wheaton College in two weeks. Ryken said the college will do “everything possible to continue to provide coverage for faculty, staff and students.”
Punitive fines for the faculty and staff would cost about $1.4 million annually.