A federal judge in Pittsburgh has granted a preliminary injunction to a Christian college that objects to certain provisions of Obamacare, which could require it to include female contraceptives, like Plan B, in the health care coverage it makes available to students.
U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti of the Western District of Pennsylvania granted the injunction just over a month before the start of the health care plan year August 1. If the court didn't grant the injunction by today, June 20 — the deadline for its health insurance carrier — Geneva College wouldn't have contracted for a student health-insurance plan, Conti said. She issued her opinion two days ahead of that date.
August 1 is also the date on which new guidelines regarding what religious organizations can be exempt from the contraceptive requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are slated to go into effect.
"Because Geneva objects to the proposed rules as they currently stand, the court will grant Geneva's motion, allowing it to continue the process of contracting for a student health plan for the 2013-14 plan year," Conti said in Geneva College v. Sebelius.
Gregory Baylor, of the Alliance Defending Freedom's Washington, D.C., office, who represented Geneva, recognized that the tight deadline faced by the college and the coincidence of the plan year's starting date being the same as the date on which the new rules are to take effect gave the court a sense of urgency that is absent in other similar cases. It is a function of those unique factual circumstances that led to what appears to be the first preliminary injunction to be issued for a nonprofit organization challenging the contraception provisions of the ACA, Baylor said, noting that more than 55 similar cases have been filed across the country and about 20 for-profit companies have gotten preliminary injunctions.
Of Conti's opinion, Baylor said that he is "pleased that she clearly understood the logistical problem and the time problem the government was putting Geneva in."
Her recognition of those factors wasn't a surprise, Baylor said, since Conti cited similar reasoning when she agreed to reconsider her initial dismissal of Geneva in May — earlier in the spring, she had dismissed the school, finding that it didn't have standing.
"The crux of Geneva's concerns appear to be that the proposed rules do not moot the issues it raised in the complaint, and it must finalize its student health-insurance plan before August 1, 2013," Conti said in her opinion granting Geneva's motion for reconsideration, referring to the rules proposed in February that would ostensibly accommodate organizations like Geneva that don't fit the ACA's definition of a "religious employer," but still object to providing contraceptives on religious grounds.
The proposed rules suggest excluding from the mandate nonprofit organizations that describe themselves as being religious and oppose providing coverage for the contraceptive services required due to religious reasons as long as it self-certifies that it satisfies those three criteria, according to the opinion.
Geneva, located in Beaver Falls, Pa., was founded in 1848 by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and maintains its original mission "to glorify God by educating and ministering to a diverse community of students in order to develop servant-leaders who will transform society for the kingdom of Christ," according to the opinion.
After looking to three U.S. Supreme Court cases for guidance, Conti held, "Under the proposed rules, Geneva is faced with having to choose between violating its deeply held religious beliefs and being forced to terminate its student health-insurance coverage, which it alleges also burdens its religious exercise."
If Geneva had to drop its student health-insurance option, it would be kept from fulfilling its religious desire to provide for the health of its students by offering them health insurance and it would suffer financial hardship because the lack of a plan would have an effect on its ability to recruit students and would lead to reduced enrollment, Conti said.
She concluded her analysis of Geneva's argument that it is facing a substantial burden by summarizing the school's contention that either way — whether it drops the student health-insurance option or provides the contraceptive coverage it objects to — it will have to betray its religious beliefs.
"This is a quintessential substantial burden, and Geneva demonstrated that it is likely to succeed on the merits with respect to the substantial-burden issue," Conti said.
Bradley Humphreys of the U.S. Department of Justice represented the U.S. government. The DOJ didn't respond to a request for comment.
(Copies of the 22-page opinion in Geneva College v. Sebelius, PICS No. 13-1342, are available from The Legal Intelligencer. Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information.) •