A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Ave Maria University, a Catholic university in Florida, does not have to comply with federal rules meant to ensure that covered employees can exercise their right to obtain birth control at no cost.
The Affordable Care Act requires all new health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives – such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs – without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempted entirely from the requirement and do not have to provide employees with health insurance that covers contraceptives. Certain religiously affiliated non-profits, like Ave Maria University, who object to contraception on religious grounds, can obtain an accommodation that would allow these groups not to provide contraceptive coverage directly to their employees.
Under rules issued in 2013, a religiously affiliated non-profit seeking accommodation would simply self-certify its religious objection to providing contraceptives and submit that self-certification to its insurance issuer or to a third-party administrator who would then pay for and process claims for contraceptive services.
This summer, however, in the wake of its Hobby Lobby decision, the US Supreme Court blocked enforcement of the 2013 rules against Wheaton College, a Christian College in Illinois, who claimed that it violated the organization’s religious beliefs to submit a self-certification to its health insurance issuer, on the theory that this action made the organization somehow complicit in the provision of birth control. In that case, the Court noted that nothing in its ruling prevented women from obtaining contraceptives without cost-sharing as intended by the ACA because Wheaton College had otherwise notified the government of its objection, and the government itself could facilitate the contraceptive coverage.
Relying on the decision in Wheaton College, the Obama Administration issued interim rules in August 2014 to provide an alternate process for religiously affiliated non-profits to claim an accommodation from the ACA mandate. Under that process, the organization would notify the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of the objection and provide the agency with its insurance carrier’s information in order to allow HHS to set up contraceptive coverage for affected employees.
Ave Maria University contends, however, that even these new rules were too onerous, and US District Court Judge James S. Moody, Jr. agreed, granting the school a temporary injunction until a complete trial can be held.
Ave Maria University, founded by anti-abortion and anti-birth control Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, is located in the the town of Ave Maria, Florida, a town developed by Monaghan in 2005 to be “based on traditional family values,” according to Monaghan’s development partner. According to a report on the Daily Kos, there is only one OB/GYN in the town and the doctor will not prescribe contraceptives to any woman, for any reason.
In 2004, describing the plans for the town of Ave Maria, Monaghan said that he and the developers intended to “own all commercial real estate” in the town.
“That means we will be able to control what goes on there,” he said. “You won’t be able to buy a Playboy or Hustler magazine in Ave Maria Town. We’re going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drug store and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won’t be able to get that in Ave Maria Town.”
So far, according to the Daily Kos, there is no pharmacy in Ave Maria Town, and for now, there is no birth control coverage for employees of Ave Maria University.
The government may choose to appeal the district court judge’s ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Media Resources: SCOTUS Blog 10/28/14; The Hill 10/28/2014; Daily Kos 9/30/2014; Feminist Newswire 8/27/14, 7/7/14; Wall Street Journal 11/11/05; Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services