CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Two Christian colleges have been granted relief from what has been dubbed the abortion pill mandate in Obamacare, as the U.S. Department of Justice under the Trump administration dropped opposition to the legal challenge.
U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett ruled on Tuesday that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and issued an order in favor of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, which had requested a permanent injunction against the rule’s enforcement.
‘[T]he requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-13(a)(4), as those requirements relate to the provision of drugs, devices, procedures, patient counseling and education, and any other services that violate plaintiffs’ religious consciences, including services that plaintiffs view as abortion, abortifacients, embryoharming pharmaceuticals, and related education and counseling, violate plaintiffs’ rights protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” the order reads in part.
The colleges had filed suit in 2013, during a time when a number of faith-based entities were challenging the required coverage of certain contraceptives that they considered to be abortifacients.
“Our faith governs all spheres of life, including healthcare, and we want to provide our employees with comprehensive health care, but within the bounds of what we understand as biblical principles and ethics,” said Howard Wilson, vice president of Dordt College.
As previously reported, in October, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued interim final rules stating that the Obamacare mandate, as applied to those with sincerely-held religious beliefs, did not serve a compelling enough government interest. It noted, for example, that Hobby Lobby does not oppose all contraceptives, but only the few that it considers to be abortifacients.
“With respect to organizations and entities holding those beliefs, the fact that they are willing to provide coverage for various contraceptive methods significantly detracts from the government interest in requiring that they provide coverage for other contraceptive methods to which they object,” HHS explained.
The department further noted that “[s]ome of the religious nonprofit groups challenging the accommodation claim that their employees are required to adhere to a statement of faith which includes the entities’ views on certain contraceptive items,” and such organizations have a right to choose to hire individuals based on whether or not they will respect the nonprofit’s values.
HHS also outlined that many states have contraceptive programs of their own, which “significantly diminishes the government’s interest in applying the mandate to employers over their sincerely held religious objections.”
Following Tuesday’s ruling, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented the two colleges in court, expressed relief that the matter had come to an end.
“Everyone in America, and especially Christian college communities, should be free to live, study, and work consistently with their deeply held beliefs without the threat of unjust punishment,” ADF Senior Counsel Gregory Baylor said in a statement.
“Under the HHS mandate, religious employers were given no real choice: They had to either comply and abandon their religious freedom, or resist and pay severe fines for their faith. The district court in Iowa has rightly blocked enforcement of this mandate to protect the colleges’ religious freedom,” he said.