Judge Grants Pa. Christian College Injunction on Birth Control Mandate

A Western Pennsylvania judge has granted Geneva College an injunction that allows the school's student insurance plans this year to not comply with the Department of Health and Human Services' birth control mandate.

"We were glad that the judge accepted the argument that [Geneva] needed relief right away because the college was faced with a deadline to arrange for student health plan for 2013 school year," said Gregory Baylor, Geneva's senior counsel, to The Christian Post on Tuesday.

After Judge Joy Flowers Conti dismissed the case back in March as not "ripe," an exemption looked unlikely. However, Conti reopened the case in May and granted the injunction on June 18, just two days before the college's deadline to select a student insurance plan for the 2013-2014 year.

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While the HHS' mandate included a conscience-based exemption for some religious non-profit Christian groups that did not want to cover abortifacient drugs, Christian colleges were among those excluded from the exemption.

The Alliance for Defending Freedom, the legal group that represented Geneva College in this case, successfully made their case that the government had given the school too little time to make a decision.

Conti's opinion reiterated this understanding.

"Geneva is no longer planning for some indefinite event in the future," Conti wrote. "Because defendants failed to build sufficient lead time into their rulemaking for entities like Geneva whose plan years begin on August 1, 2013, Geneva is now making critical decisions about its student health plan and will continue to suffer real hardship absent a court ruling."

While Conti's individual decision was based on the college's time constraints, she also noted that the school's larger, religious freedom arguments, that asserted the right of institution to make decisions based on conscience, had national precedent.

"Three Supreme Court decisions support Geneva's argument that there is a likelihood of success on the merits with respect to its assertion that it will suffer a substantial burden under the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] RFRA," she wrote.

While a Geneva spokesperson could not be reached for comment by press time, the college reiterated in a press release the grounds of their argument.

"Geneva believes that the federal government forcing it to facilitate the use of the abortion-inducing drugs through its insurance plans violates both its first amendment rights to freedom of religion in the Constitution, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)," it said.

The press release also clarified that it is "not opposed to contraceptive coverage in general," but is "opposed to abortifacient drugs which cause or tend to cause the termination of a pregnancy."
Baylor added that even those who may personally disagree with Geneva's desire to not include Plan B and Ella should still sympathize with the larger religious freedom argument.

"Everyone should have healthy respect for religious freedom," said Baylor. "Even if your own conscience isn't affected, if government can feel that it can violate it in this context, there's broader issue at stake."

Geneva's court case follows a nationwide trend of challenging the birth control mandate on the basis of religious freedom. There have been nearly 200 plaintiffs in at least 50 cases; notably other colleges such as Wheaton and Franciscan have seen their cases dismissed on similar grounds to that of Geneva's.

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