Supreme Court helps Wheaton with birth control provision

Wheaton College says that an Affordable Care Act rule makes them complicit in contraception

One provision of the Affordable Care Act is that religious-affiliated companies and organizations do not have to pay for contraception coverage for female employees.

The companies would, however, be required to file EBSA Form 700, registering their religious objection. Form 700 allows insurers to assume responsibility for birth control.

But several religious-affiliated organizations, including Wheaton College (Ill.), maintain that filing Form 700 makes them complicit in contraception, which goes against their religious convictions.

Three days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Hobby Lobby” decision excused the Christian family-owned business from paying for birth control, the court issued a temporary injunction excusing Wheaton from filing Form 700 while the college’s own case is still under appeal in federal court. Without the injunction, Wheaton would have faced steep fines.

Wheaton’s employee benefits do provide for a variety of birth control methods—but not the so-called “morning after” pill, which the school maintains is an “abortifacient” or drug that can cause abortions (a claim that itself is subject to debate).

Ben Irwin, an attorney with the Husch Blackwell law firm, says the court’s decision provides insight into future rulings involving religiously-affiliated private institutions.

“These institutions now have significant support for the notion that the contraceptive mandate infringes upon their religious freedom,” he says.

The court’s injunction ruling was not without controversy, however. In a dissent opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “The sincerity of Wheaton’s deeply held religious beliefs is beyond refute. But as a legal matter, Wheaton’s application comes nowhere near the high bar necessary to warrant an emergency injunction from this court.” —Tim Goral

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