Christian College Wins Legal Battle Against Obamacare Birth Control Mandate

A man fills out an information card during an Affordable Care Act outreach event hosted by Planned Parenthood for the Latino community in Los Angeles, Calif., Sept. 28, 2013.
A man fills out an information card during an Affordable Care Act outreach event hosted by Planned Parenthood for the Latino community in Los Angeles, Calif., Sept. 28, 2013. | (Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn)

A federal court has granted a Christian liberal arts college in Pennsylvania a permanent injunction against the Obama-era abortion pill mandate that required the school to be complicit in providing health care coverage that violated its religious convictions.

On Thursday, Judge Joy Flowers Conti of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granted permanent relief to Geneva College, a liberal arts school affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.

Conti ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services Obamacare contraception mandate violated the college's rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by requiring the school to facilitate coverage of services to which it has religious objections.

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"[T]he court finds that Geneva is entitled to declaratory relief that defendants' enforcement of the mandate ... and implementing regulations against Geneva and requiring its compliance with the accommodation procedure with respect to providing, paying for, making accessible, or otherwise facilitating or causing access to coverage or payments through an insurance company or other third party for contraceptive coverage services to which Geneva College has religious objections ... violates Geneva's rights under RFRA," the court document reads.

The mandate was first issued in 2011 under President Barack Obama. In 2016, the United States Supreme Court vacated a lower court ruling against an order of Catholic nuns (Little Sisters of the Poor) and other organizations who objected to the mandate but were not given an exemption. The nation's high court ordered lower courts to "arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners' religious exercise."

Last year, President Donald Trump's administration expanded an exemption to the mandate to include any nonprofit or for-profit entity that has a moral objection to providing abortion-inducing and other birth control drugs.

According to the injunction in the Geneva College case, the Trump administration and the agencies implicated in the case conceded that enforcement of the Affordable Care Act Mandate "against Geneva would violate RFRA and indicating that it does not intend to offer a substantive defense with respect to that."

The college was defended by the Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the nation's top religious freedom advocacy groups that recently helped Colorado baker Jack Phillips win his case before the Supreme Court.

"Geneva College no longer has to fear being forced to pay fines for simply abiding by the Christian beliefs it teaches and espouses, and it is no longer required to fill out forms authorizing coverage for abortion-inducing drugs," ADF attorney Greg Baylor said in a statement. "The government has many other ways to ensure access to these drugs without forcing people of faith to violate their deepest convictions."

Last month, The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa granted permanent injunction against the mandate to Dordt College of Iowa and Cornerstone University of Michigan, both of which were also represented by ADF.

In February, the prestigious evangelical institution Wheaton College in Illinois won its five-year legal battle against the mandate, when it, too, was granted an injunction.

The Obamacare mandate has impacted other religious institutions besides universities and colleges.

In April, a coalition of Catholic employers avoided having to pay $6.9 million in fines when Judge David Russell of the U.S. District Court of Western Oklahoma ruled in favor of the members of the Catholic Benefits Association.

"Catholic employers who belong to the CBA are now free from attempts by the federal government to coerce them into providing morally offensive health care coverage," the Catholic League's Bill Donohue said in a statement. "This is a smashing victory for religious liberty and a stunning defeat for the pro-abortion industry and its allies."

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