Judge dismisses Wheaton College suit against contraception mandate

Suit against Obama administration took issue with contraception mandate

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Wheaton College against the Obama administration, which questioned the legality of a health insurance mandate to provide coverage including contraception.

The judge dismissed the suit Friday on grounds that the federal government amended a “safe harbor” policy, which will now allow the evangelical college a year to comply with the mandate.

Federal Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle ruled that because of the one-year exemption period, which was granted two weeks ago, the college is not facing an imminent injury and the lawsuit is premature.

The mandate, which is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, requires health insurance plans to cover preventive services for women including all FDA-approved forms of contraception. The college's lawsuit takes aim at the mandate's inclusion of coverage for emergency contraception drugs such as Plan B and Ella.

The college will now have until August 2013 to comply with the mandate or face fines.

The college did not originally qualify for the one-year safe harbor period, and is credited with helping push the government to change its guidelines on how religious institutions can qualify for the exemption period.

The college's insurance policy covered emergency contraceptive drugs in its plans after the Feb. 1, 2012, cutoff date, which originally made the institution ineligible for the one-year extension. The college's president said the “coverage was provided inadvertently,” and the college has worked with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois to remove emergency contraceptive coverage from its three health care plans.

The Becket Fund of Religious Liberty, the group representing Wheaton College in the lawsuit, called the “safe harbor” guideline modifications a victory but argued that the lawsuit's dismissal leaves the question of religious liberty unresolved.

The college is considering an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, according to a statement released by the Becket Fund Monday.

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