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Christian College Gets Temporary Relief From Providing Plan B

By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 26, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Pennsylvania-area Christian college was granted a temporary injunction in mid-June relieving the school of its obligation under federal law to provide students health insurance coverage for Plan B contraceptives.

Geneva College's counsel believes that Judge Joy Conti of Pennsylvania's Western District granting a temporary stay is "the right thing" in preventing what he refers to as the "abortion pill mandate" from being implemented, reports Catholic News Agency.

What pressing worries would prompt Judge Conti to make this ruling?

HHS Mandate

The court granted a temporary injunction against the United States Health and Human Services (HHS) from enforcing 42 USC 300gg-13(a)(4) against Geneva, proving coverage for "additional preventive care and screenings" for women.

This hasn't been a great year in the Third Circuit for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who had a TRO granted against the HHS in June by another Pennsylvania federal judge in order to shortcut the organ donation guidelines.

Contraceptive Injunction, What's Your Function?

Judge Conti mentioned in her ruling that "irreparable harm" would befall Geneva under the federal mandate such that injunctive relief was favored, reports Catholic News Agency.

The injunction rests on the contention that the HHS mandate would require Geneva College to provide insurance coverage to its students for what it refers to as "abortifacients," or a drug that induces a miscarriage or abortion (although there are substantial differences between Plan B and medications used for abortion like RU-486).

The strength of the injunction lies in the court's belief in the merits of Geneva's claim against the mandate under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), which has been used successfully in the Tenth Circuit against federal regulations.

RFRA & Plan B

The standard for granting preliminary injunctions is illustrated in the Third Circuit by Kos Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Andrx Corp. requiring:

  • Likelihood of success on the merits
  • Irreparable harm
  • No greater harm to non-moving party
  • Public interest favoring injunction

The success on the merits of the RFRA claim hinges on the idea that a "substantial burden" is placed on Geneva's exercise of belief by requiring them to either drop their student health insurance or include coverage for emergency contractive.

The district court relies on cases like Thomas v. Review Bd., in which the Supreme Court found that financial incentives like unemployment insurance could constitute an unconstitutional burden on religious belief.

The question remains whether the Third Circuit will find that complying with the mandate leaves Geneva substantially burdened by either covering medications like Plan B or frustrating its religious desire to care for the wellbeing of its students.

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