The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, June 06, 2018 1:00 am

Judge lets Grace skirt ACA birth control rule


Grace College and Seminary in Winona Lake has won a lawsuit against a federal requirement to provide no-cost coverage of contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization through student and employee health-insurance plans.

The ruling, which ends a nearly six-year dispute, came Monday from Judge Jon E. DiGuilio of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana, South Bend.

The judge issued a permanent injunction against enforcement of the portion of the Affordable Care Act dealing with providing contraception when an employer's religious convictions opposed it.

The reason for the injunction, the judge wrote, was that the Trump administration's Department of Justice had abandoned defending the measure, saying it would violate the rights of Grace and another college under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The provisions were enacted during the Obama administration.

Grace, an evangelical Christian college, had filed suit with Biola University of La Mirada, California. The two schools were represented by the Alliance for Defending Freedom of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Grace President Bill Katip said in an email he was “heartened” by the decision.

“Christian institutions like ours should not be forced to abandon our religious beliefs to remain lawful. We will continue to provide excellent health care benefits to our employees that maintain our moral convictions, including the sanctity of human life,” Katip said.

The Alliance's Gregory S. Baylor, senior counsel, said the order removes requirements to fill out forms authorizing coverage of abortion-inducing drugs.

“The government has many other ways to ensure access to these drugs without forcing people of faith to violate their deepest convictions,” he said.

After the contraceptive mandate was enacted, the federal government amended it with an “accommodation” for some religious employers. However, Grace and Biola maintained the measure was inadequate because it imposed procedures they considered onerous to protect their religious interests.

The judge wrote that those who filed suit had shown they would suffer “irreparable harm” because they “can either follow their religious beliefs and incur substantial financial penalties or violate their religious beliefs by providing access to objectionable contraceptive services.”  

The penalties are described in the suit as $100 per affected beneficiary per day or $2,000 per employee per year if the institutions dropped their health plans.

The order does not make clear how and when such penalties would be levied.

According to the judge, the public interest would be served by upholding religious freedom and by the institutions continuing to provide education and health insurance to students and employees.

Both of those groups knew about the institutions' objections to contraceptive services beforehand, the judge's order states.

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