WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Wednesday urged the Supreme Court to deny a request from evangelical Wheaton College that the government says would block its students and employees from free access to emergency contraceptives. The Justice Department said the court's Hobby Lobby decision earlier this week essentially endorses the accommodation the administration already has made to faith-affiliated charities, hospitals and universities.
Meanwhile, the administration said the justices' ruling in favor of the religious claims of Hobby Lobby and other for-profit businesses supports the government's position in separate, ongoing disputes with religious-oriented nonprofit organizations.
Wednesday's court filing was the administration's first legal response to the Supreme Court decision on Monday that allowed Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Inc. and other businesses to assert religious claims to avoid covering some or all contraceptives in employee health plans.
Houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith are exempt from the requirement to offer birth control.
The issue in the lawsuits filed by Wheaton and other nonprofit groups is different because the administration already has allowed them to opt out of paying for the objectionable contraception by telling the government that doing so would violate their religious beliefs.
But they must fill out Form 700 that enables their insurers or third-party administrators to take on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. The employer does not have to arrange the coverage or pay for it. Insurers get reimbursed by the government through credits against fees owed under other provisions of the health care law.
The fight is over completing the form, which the nonprofits say violates their religious beliefs because it forces them to participate in a system to subsidize and distribute the contraception.
The justices pointed to the accommodation as an acceptable way to get contraception to women without stepping on the religious beliefs of the for-profit companies.
The administration said the outcome strongly suggested that the court would come out in its favor if and when it takes on the nonprofits' challenge.
"The decision in Hobby Lobby rested on the premise that these accommodations 'achieve all of the Government's aims' underlying the preventive-health services coverage requirement 'while providing greater respect for religious liberty,"' the Justice Department said, quoting from Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion.
Business owners who don't want to pay for their employees' birth control are ending that coverage. Some owners were already in touch with their brokers in the wake of Monday's ruling.
Oak Brook-based Triune Health Group Ltd. wants to know how soon it can change its coverage to stop paying for all contraceptives, said Mary Anne Yep, co-owner of the Oak Brook, Illinois company that provides medical management services.
"We were ready to go when we heard the decision," she said. Triune, which has 80 employees, had filed lawsuits against the U.S. government and the state of Illinois because of requirements that they pay for contraception.