By Julie Asher
The U.S. Supreme Court late Thursday afternoon issued an unsigned opinion granting Christian-run Wheaton College in Illinois temporary relief from complying with the Department of Health and Human Services’ federal contraceptive mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act. The order in Wheaton College v. Burwell came three days after the court issued its Hobby Lobby decision.
(CNS file photo)
The court said the college, located west of Chicago, does not have to fill out the self-certification form — known as EBSA Form 700 – directing a third party, usually the manager of an employer’s health plan, to provide the contested coverage. The college can send a letter to the government, the court said.
If the applicant informs the HHS secretary “in writing that it is a nonprofit organization that holds itself out as religious and has religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services, the respondents are enjoined from enforcement against the applicant the challenged provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and related regulations pending final disposition of appellate review.”
The EBSA form is an accommodation the Obama administration put in place for religious employers who are not exempt from the HHS mandate. But Wheaton College and many other religious employers, including Catholic institutions, that have sued over the mandate argue that even filling out the form to direct a third party to take care of the coverage makes them complicit in providing coverage they find objectionable.
“The circuit courts have divided on whether to enjoin the requirement that religious nonprofit organizations use EBSA Form 700,” the Supreme Court said in its Thursday order. “Nothing in this interim order affects the ability of the applicant’s employees and students to ontain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives.” The order also said it “should not be construed as an expression of the court’s views on the merits” of the case.
The order is similar to an injunction granted earlier this year to the Little Sisters of the Poor. On Jan. 24 the high court issued a three-sentence order affirming — for the time being — an injunction blocking enforcement of the mandate against the religious order, which runs housing for the elderly poor. The Jan. 24 order affirmed Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s Dec. 31 order.
But with regard to the order in Wheaton College v. Burwell, Sotomayor — joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Read More)