Religious College Gets Top Court Reprieve on Birth-Control Form

Jul 04, 2014 12:00 am ET

July 4 (Bloomberg) -- A Christian college doesn’t have to fill out a disputed government form that it says would facilitate contraceptive coverage the school considers immoral, the U.S. Supreme Court said over the dissent of its three female justices.

In a four-paragraph order, the court yesterday said Wheaton College, a liberal-arts school outside Chicago, can instead inform government officials of its objections in writing.

The majority said the order won’t affect the ability of employees and students covered under the college’s health plan “to obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives.” The unsigned order is a temporary one that applies while the case makes its way through the court system.

The order came three days after the court ruled that closely held companies can refuse on religious grounds to offer birth-control coverage to their workers.

In dissent yesterday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court had effectively rewritten government regulations. The order “allows Wheaton’s beliefs about the effects of its actions to trump the democratic interest in allowing the government to enforce the law,” she wrote. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan joined the dissent.

The contraceptive-coverage requirements of President Barack Obama’s health-care law remain a contentious issue even after the June 30 Supreme Court ruling in a case involving three closely held companies.

Wheaton’s case is one of more than 50 filed by nonprofit groups that object to the contraceptive requirement.

Accommodation Attempt

The college, whose policies insure almost 1,000 employees and students, says it views two types of birth-control pills as immoral.

The form was designed to accommodate religious employers by letting them attest to their objections and shift the responsibility onto the insurer to make contraceptive coverage available. Wheaton says even submitting that “self- certification” form would make the college complicit in what it considers abortion.

The Supreme Court left the status of the accommodation unclear in its June 30 ruling. Samuel Alito’s majority opinion that day pointed to the self-certification system as a potential way for the government to ensure coverage without making the companies provide it directly. The accommodation now applies only to religious nonprofit groups and not for-profit corporations.

Alito, however, stopped short of saying the system was adequate to protect religious rights.

Wheaton covers most forms of federally approved contraceptives. The college objects to Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.’s Plan B One-Step and Actavis Plc’s Ella, saying they can prevent a fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus.

The case is Wheaton College v. Burwell, 13A1284.