Geneva College in Pennsylvania has been given temporary relief from having to provide emergency contraceptives in its health-insurance plans, as required by the federal contraception mandate.
"The court has done the right thing in allowing Geneva College to suspend the enforcement of the Obama administration’s abortion-pill mandate for the student health plan while the case moves forward," said Gregory Baylor, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the college.
The June 18 order by federal Judge Joy Flowers Conti of Pennsylvania's Western District protects Geneva College from including coverage for potentially abortion-causing drugs for its students for the time being.
The injunction will last "until this court makes a full determination on the merits of the case or the U.S. Supreme Court or U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit renders a decision on the merits of this case or an adverse decision in a substantially similar case."
"All Americans should be free to live according to their faith rather than be forced into violating their own consciences," Baylor said. "That’s no different for Geneva College, a Christian college that simply wants to abide by the very faith it espouses and teaches.
"The government should not punish people of faith for making decisions consistent with that faith."
The school, located in Beaver Falls, about 30 miles from Pittsburgh, is contesting the controversial federal mandate by the Health and Human Services Department, which requires employers to offer health insurance covering contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates the employer’s deeply held religious beliefs.
While the mandate includes a narrow exemption for some religious organizations and an "accommodation" for certain nonprofit religious employers, it does not offer any protection for faith-based schools like Geneva College.
Geneva College "consciously and deliberately strives to integrate faith in Christ with all aspects of learning and living" and is associated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.
While the school is not opposed to contraceptive coverage "in general," it does have moral objections to providing emergency contraceptives which "cause or tend to cause the termination of a pregnancy," it says.
"As a reformed Christian college, Geneva believes in the sanctity of life and objects, on biblical grounds, to being forced to provide the drugs through its insurance provider," it added in a June 19 statement.
Conti had initially, in March, dismissed Geneva's suit because it was not yet "ripe."
The college had only until June 20 to select an insurance plan for its students for the 2013-2014 academic year, and so Conti decided June 18 that the threat to the college's religious freedom was imminent enough to grant the injunction.
Conti found that "three Supreme Court decisions support Geneva's argument that there is a likelihood" it can win the case, on the merits of its rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
She also indicated that the college had made good arguments that its First Amendment rights would be violated.
The judge was sceptical that forcing Geneva College to provide its students with contraceptive coverage is a compelling government interest.
"The tens of millions of individuals who remain unaffected by the mandate’s requirements …contradict any notion that the government’s interests are as compelling as defendants argue."
"Defendants (HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius) in the present case fail to show how exempting Geneva from the mandate will 'seriously compromise (the government’s) ability to administer the program,' particularly where defendants are actively trying to exempt entities like Geneva," Conti added in her decision.
Conti also noted that, without the injunction, Geneva College would "suffer irreparable harm" and that "public interest favors granting injunctive relief."
The decision does not affect the health-insurance plans of Geneva employees, because the mandate will not go into effect for them for another six months, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The school is one of nearly 200 plaintiffs in at least 50 cases across the country that have filed lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate on the grounds of religious freedom.
Geneva College is joined in its lawsuit by the co-owners of Seneca Hardwood Lumber Co., who are Catholics. They have long provided health insurance to their employees, though omitting coverage for contraception and abortion, in accord with their faith.