On Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in a 5-4 ruling that the federal government may not require closely held companies (businesses with more than 50 percent of stock owned by five or fewer individuals) to offer contraceptive coverage that goes against the religious beliefs of the owners of these corporations. The court decided in the case Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius that the birth control mandate outlined in the Affordable Care Act violates companies’ First Amendment rights, impeding the free exercise of religion. Now that the Supreme Court has made its Hobby Lobby ruling loud and clear, there are more than 80 other organizations waiting to drop their birth control coverage, too – including colleges and universities.
According to a full list of more than 80 pending cases filed by companies, nonprofits and schools challenging the contraception mandate as of June 26, there are some 14 colleges and universities with lawsuits making cases in ways similar to Hobby Lobby. That said, religious school leaders and lawyers believe that it will take a year or so before another Supreme Court case will determine how religious colleges and universities should be covered by the Affordable Care Act.
As with many court decisions, this one doesn’t necessarily lend itself to quick summarization, but it appears that today’s ruling does not have immediate bearing on nonprofit, religious-based colleges. We are encouraged that the court demonstrated a respect for the freedom of citizens to live and work in accordance with their religious convictions, but will continue to confer with legal experts on the potential effect of the decision on our nation’s Catholic colleges and universities.
Basically, don’t expect these schools to make a SCOTUS splash anytime soon. A decision about religious colleges and universities has yet to be made. For the time being, though, check out the list of academic institutions that have filed cases against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate:
- Geneva College
- Belmont Abbey College
- Wheaton College (Illinois)
- Louisiana College
- East Texas Baptist University
- Union University (Tennessee)
- University of Notre Dame (Indiana)
- Grace Schools (Indiana)
- The School of the Ozarks (Missouri)
- Dordt College (Iowa)
- Colorado Christian
- Southern Nazarene (Oklahoma)
- Ave Maria University (Florida)
- Ave Maria School of Law (Florida)
While no local schools are included on the list, there is some controversial contraception history here in the District. You may remember back in March 2013 when Boston College threatened to punish students for distributing condoms on campus. At the time, the Boston College administration argued that the distribution of condoms was in violation of the school’s Roman Catholic values. So in an effort “to protect the values and traditions of Boston College as a Jesuit Catholic Institution,” Boston College devised a plan to penalize all students who continued to hand out condoms on campus.
Georgetown University and Catholic University of America showed solidarity, defending BC’s decision to rid of contraceptives on school grounds.
“One of the teaching of our faith is that contraception is morally unacceptable,” stated Victor Nakas, a spokesman for Catholic University, to the Boston Globe. “Since condoms are a form of contraception, we do not permit their distribution on campus.”
Just about seven months later, Georgetown student group H*yas for Choice established a new condom delivery service on campus. The program let students request condoms and informational pamphlets to hand out at parties and other social events held on school grounds.
This initiative was launched shortly after Georgetown student and faculty health insurance was adjusted to cover contraception through United Healthcare. Revisions to the Affordable Care Act mandated that insurance companies pay directly for contraceptive services for students and employees of nonprofit organizations, like Georgetown, that oppose providing coverage for contraceptive services on religious grounds.
Georgetown President John DeGioia broke the news in an email blast to the school, which said:
These regulations give us the opportunity to reconcile our religious identity and our commitment to providing access to affordable healthcare. Under the framework established by the Administration, the University’s insurance companies will cover the costs of contraceptive services for Georgetown faculty, staff and students who opt to use them, regardless of which health care plan each person has. We will continue to provide our community with access to affordable healthcare options, and women will have access to contraceptives at no cost to them or to the University.