Supreme Court Grants Injunction to Religious University Barring Strict Enforcement of Accommodation Scheme for ACA Contraception Mandate
The United States Supreme Court granted Wheaton College, a religious non-profit college in Illinois, an injunction permitting the college to opt into the ACA contraception mandate’s accommodation scheme available to certain religious non-profits without strictly complying with the accommodation’s terms.
The ACA’s contraception mandate requires employers with 50 or more employees to offer contraceptive coverage and related services to its employees at no charge. Certain religious entities, such as churches, are completely exempt from the mandate. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also provided an accommodation scheme for certain other eligible non-profits that do not qualify for a complete exemption, but object to providing contraceptive services on religious grounds (such as colleges and universities, hospital systems, and religious charities). The accommodation scheme permits such eligible non-profits to comply with the contraception mandate by arranging with an insurer or third-party administrator to provide stand-alone contraceptive coverage at no cost to either the entity, or to its employees and beneficiaries.
The accommodation scheme requires the eligible entity to fill out a form informing the government that it objects to the mandate on religious grounds and wants to opt into the accommodation scheme. Wheaton College contended that even completing the form violates its religious beliefs, as doing so would make it complicit in the provision of contraceptive services. The Court agreed, reasoning that Wheaton College had already informed the government that it qualified for the accommodation scheme, and need not fill out the form to opt into it.
As covered in detail in our Supreme Court review, in June, the Court struck down the contraception mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), as applied to closely held, for-profit corporations. Several religious non-profits around the country have challenged the validity of the accommodation scheme under the First Amendment and the RFRA. Some plaintiffs have successfully obtained temporary injunctions against the accommodation scheme while a decision was pending on the merits, and some have not. Although the Court insisted that the injunction granted to Wheaton College was temporary while its challenge was being decided on the merits by a lower court, the Supreme Court may eventually agree to hear such a challenge if federal circuit courts end up issuing contradictory decisions on the merits.