A federal judge dismissed Wheaton College's lawsuit against the Obama administration, objecting over a mandate that requires employee health insurance plans to cover contraception.
Wheaton, a Christian liberal art college in Illinois, filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C. in July objecting to a U.S. Health & Human Services directive that employers must offer group health insurance plans that provide women with certain forms of preventive care, including all FDA-approved forms of contraception, without cost sharing. Religious institutions such as Wheaton, Catholic University of America and Notre Dame University, all claim the mandate violates their religious freedom by forcing them to go against their teachings.
However, because Wheaton already covered contraception in its health insurance plans, administrators had to scramble to remove that coverage in order to sue the federal government:
Wheaton's health plan already covered emergency contraception when the mandate was announced, a spokesperson for its legal team told The Huffington Post, and tried to scramble to get rid of that coverage in order to qualify for the one-year reprieve President Barack Obama put in place for religious institutions that have moral objections to contraception.
The U.S. district court found Wheaton did not have standing, not because it covered birth control in the past, but because enforcement does not begin until Aug. 1, 2013. The court also noted the HHS is still negotiating possible accommodations and exceptions for religious institutions concerned about the mandate.
"Wheaton only tilts at windmills when it protests that it will not be satisfied with whatever amendments defendants ultimately make," wrote U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle. "Indeed, Wheaton's argument that various hypothetical accommodations are insufficient only serves to underscore why this Court ought not address the merits of Wheaton's claims until the preventive services regulations 'have taken on fixed and final shape so that [the Court] can see what legal issues it is deciding.'"
Huvelle added that Wheaton has not "demonstrated a hardship from any delay" of judicial review.
Inside Higher Ed noted other lawsuits over the birth control mandate have been dismissed as well:
The suit is the third to be dismissed in recent weeks. Belmont Abbey College, a Roman Catholic college in North Carolina, lost a similar court challenge in D.C. in July, as did a suit from several states and Catholic employers (but no colleges) in Nebraska.
"In dismissing this case, the court did not address the substantive merits — Wheaton's argument that being forced to offer drugs that violate its religious beliefs is harmful to its religious freedom," Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a statement.
Duncan said Wheaton is considering its options for an appeal.
Elsewhere, at Notre Dame, students are petitioning their university's administration to get them to drop the lawsuit over the birth control mandate.
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