Christian college loses contraceptive challenge

The Obama administration won a reversal of a court ruling that would have shielded a Christian college from a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring religious nonprofits to indirectly facilitate contraceptive coverage even if they oppose the use because of their faith.

Nonprofit religious groups can claim an exception under the health-care act that offers coverage for contraceptives through an insurance plan or a third-party administrator. The accommodation to the contraceptive-coverage provision, which requires nonprofits to notify their insurers, places “no substantial burden” on the college, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday in Philadelphia, overturning a lower-court judge.

Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, argued that the accommodation forces it to trigger the provision of insurance coverage for contraceptive services to which it is opposed on religious grounds. The very act of notifying its insurer through a self-certification form requires the college to be “complicit” in sin, according to court papers.

The appeals court disagreed. The law provides an “opt-out mechanism” that shifts to third parties the obligation to provide contraceptive coverage allowing religious groups to wash their hands of any involvement, the court ruled.

“The regulations accommodate the interests of religious institutions that provide health services, while not curtailing the public interest that motivates the federally mandated requirement that such services shall be provided to women free of charge,” the court said in its ruling.

The court ruling reverses a preliminary injunction a federal judge granted Geneva College and other entities while they pursue their claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It also reverses a permanent injunction in favor of the Catholic dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, Pa. in December 2013.

The case is Geneva College v. Secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13-3536, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Philadelphia).

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