Religious groups seek US Supreme Court action on Obamacare contraceptive rules

Students rally in Houston against the HHS contraceptive mandate(Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)

Three religious educational institutions are asking the US Supreme Court to intervene in their appeal to overturn the contraceptive accommodation mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

Houston Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University and Westminster Theological Seminary, through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, are seeking relief from the Supreme Court from an estimated $23.1 million in annual fines if they refuse to comply with the Department of Human Health and Services (HHS) mandate.

According to the petition, the three educational institutions provide healthcare plans to their employees including free access to 14 different kinds of contraceptives but exclude four types of contraceptives—Plan B, Ella and two types of IUDs—that they believe would cause abortion based on their religious beliefs.

"We oppose taking life of the unborn from the womb," said Dr. Robert Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University, according to Christian News Network. "Having to provide these kinds of drugs or protocols that destroy the life of a fertilized egg—we're just opposed to it. Whether a person agrees with that view or not, it's our sincerely held belief. We believe it to our core."

Under the HHS rules, employees must have access to all contraceptives, including the four in question, in order for the employer to comply with Obamacare and the contraceptive mandate and avoid penalties.

The petitioners oppose the accommodation rule that they have to submit a form stating that they're a religious employer and they object to the contraceptives and the insurance company will pay for it instead of the institution.

"They sincerely believe that fulfilling the contraceptive mandate via this regulatory option facilitates the provision of contraceptives and abortifacients and makes them complicit in actions that violate their religious beliefs," the petition said.

It said countless religious colleges and seminaries, faith-based charities, orders of nuns, and other religious organisations remain subject to the contraceptive mandate.

In October 2012, the two universities filed a suit while Westminster intervened in March 2013 to challenge the mandate.

A district court issued a permanent injunction in their favour in December 2013. The government appealed and last month, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied relief to the two universities and the seminary.

"The government has already told thousands of businesses they don't need to comply with the HHS mandate. So why is it bullying nuns, religious schools, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters unless they comply? It makes no sense," said Diana Verm, legal counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Sloan said, "We cannot help the government or anyone else provide potentially life-threatening drugs and devices. The government has many other ways to achieve its goals without involving us. It ought to pick one of those and let us go back to educating our students."