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College Seeks Injunction Against Contraceptive Coverage Rules; GOP Rhetoric Draws Rebuke From Dems

College Seeks Injunction Against Contraceptive Coverage Rules; GOP Rhetoric Draws Rebuke From Dems

August 2, 2012 — Wheaton College on Wednesday requested a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the federal contraception coverage rules being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), CQ HealthBeat reports (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 8/1). The Illinois-based evangelical university in July filed a lawsuit challenging the rules (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/19).

Dozens of other lawsuits have been filed against the rules, which took effect on Wednesday for most employers. To date, one plaintiff -- a for-profit Colorado company whose owners oppose contraception on religious grounds -- has been granted an injunction.

The contraceptive coverage rules are being implemented under the ACA women's preventive services provision, which requires health plans issued or renewed after Aug. 1 to cover various services without copayments or deductibles. HHS has exempted religious institutions, such as churches and synagogues, from the contraceptive coverage rules, and it instituted a one-year delay period for religiously affiliated entities, such as colleges and hospitals, to come into compliance (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/30).

In the filing on Wednesday, attorneys for Wheaton College claimed that emergency contraceptives are the equivalent of an abortion and argued that covering them would violate its religious beliefs. They also argued that the college does not fit into any categories for an exemption or delay. If the college is forced to comply, it would have to stop providing health coverage to its employees or pay fines, which it estimates would total $1.35 million annually, according to the filing.

The college is seeking a decision on the injunction by Sept. 30, which is one month before it starts open enrollment for its health plan (CQ HealthBeat, 8/1).

House Republicans Invoke Pearl Harbor, Sept. 11 Attacks

At a press conference marking the launch of the contraceptive coverage requirement, House Republicans decried the policy as an attack on religious liberty and compared it to the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) said Aug. 1 is "a date that will live in infamy, along with those other dates" (Viebeck [1], "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/1). He added, "Today is the day that religious freedom died in America."

More than a dozen Republican lawmakers joined Kelly at the conference (Attias, CQ Today, 8/1). Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said Wednesday marked the return of "anti-Catholic bigotry" to the U.S. (Viebeck [1], "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/1).

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) -- the Senate's most senior member and a veteran of World War II who witnessed the Pearl Harbor attacks -- called Kelly's comments "misguided" and "insulting."

"It is complete nonsense to suggest that a matter discussed, debated and approved by the Congress and the President is akin to a surprise attack that killed nearly 2,500 people and launched our nation into the second World War, or a terrorist attack that left nearly 3,000 dead and led to fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq," Inouye said (Viebeck [2], "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/1).

Notre Dame Students Launch Petition

At least 122 students at the University of Notre Dame have signed a petition urging the school to drop its lawsuit against HHS that challenges the contraception coverage rules, the Huffington Post reports.

The petition argues that an exemption from the rules for Notre Dame would mean coercing non-Catholics to follow the church's rules and teachings, according to the Huffington Post.

Kathryn Pogin, a doctorate student at the university who began the petition, noted "that several Catholic institutions already provide access to contraceptives." She said the petitioners are questioning "precisely the extent to which there's a genuine conflict between Catholic conscience and complying with the mandate" (Kingkade, Huffington Post, 8/1).

Editorial Criticizes Injunction

A Los Angeles Times editorial criticizes U.S. District Judge John Kane for granting the injunction to the for-profit company in Colorado.

"It's troubling that Kane sees a for-profit secular company as in any way analogous to a parochial school or Catholic hospital," the editorial states, adding, "Reasonably interpreted, neither the Religious Freedom Restoration Act nor the 1st Amendment provides an escape hatch for profit-making businesses from the ACA, any more than it exempts them from civil rights laws" (Los Angeles Times, 7/31).