Wheaton College's inadvertent previous coverage of some abortifacient drugs, also known as emergency contraceptives or "morning after" pills, will not impact its lawsuit against the federal government's birth control mandate, a lawyer for The Becket Fund, which represents Wheaton in the case, told The Christian Post.
Wheaton last month joined Catholic University of America in a joint lawsuit against a requirement that it cover birth control services with no co-pay in its health insurance plans for employees and students. The birth control mandate requires coverage for contraception, sterilization and some abortifacient drugs. As a pro-life institution opposed to the use of abortifacients, Dr. Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, said the mandate forces the evangelical Christian college to violate its religious beliefs.
Some religious institutions opposed to the mandate have a year, under a "safe harbor" provision in the law, before the federal government will require them to abide by the mandate in violation of their religious beliefs. Wheaton, though, discovered during a review of its health insurance plans in late 2011 that some abortifacients were mistakenly covered. Because of this, it did not qualify for the "safe harbor." The mandate, therefore, will go into effect sooner for Wheaton.
"Wheaton doesn't know when or how its insurance coverage for emergency contraception came about. What we do know is that as soon as it was discovered Wheaton worked diligently with its insurer and plan administrator to exclude emergency contraception from its plans in order to be consistent with its long-standing sincerely-held religious convictions," Hannah Smith, senior counsel for The Becket Fund, told The Christian Post in an email.
The college's oversight will not, though, affect the lawsuit, according to Smith, because the college's current health plans do not include the drugs and the case is centered on the "substantial burden to the college's religious exercise, among other things."
"The fact that emergency contraception was in the past included in its health plans – unbeknownst to Wheaton – does not change its longstanding and sincerely held opposition to these drugs as a religious matter," Smith wrote.