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Federal court says accommodation process on HHS mandate 'a subterfuge'
Catholic News Service

ALEXANDRIA, La. — A U.S. District Court Aug. 13 ruled in favor of a Baptist-run college in its fight against the federal contraceptive mandate and the directive that nonprofit employers who are not exempt from the mandate but who object to it must authorize a third party to provide contraceptive coverage to employees.

Louisiana College in Pineville objects on moral grounds to the mandate but does not fit the narrow criteria that would exempt it, so in order to refuse to provide coverage it finds objectionable, the college would have to comply with what the administration calls an accommodation for nonexempt employers.

Such an employer must fill out a self-certification form -- known as EBSA Form 700 -- stating it is a religious nonprofit with objections to covering contraceptives and directing a third party, usually the manager of an employer's health plan, to provide the coverage.

Many religious employers, including Louisiana College, that have sued over the mandate argue that even filling out Form 700 makes them complicit in providing coverage they find objectionable.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, based in Alexandria, sided with the college, calling the accommodation for Louisiana College and like entities "a subterfuge."

"In this case, we would go so far as to say that self-certification is vastly more than a mere 'administrative' act," the court wrote. "Rather, the challenged regulations and their application trigger a subterfuge requiring indirect action the regulations could not do if they applied to plaintiff directly."

Kevin Theriot, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Louisiana College, said his client "simply wants to continue to operate as a Christian college as it has since its founding in 1906."

"The court did the right thing in striking down the Obamacare abortion-pill mandate as it applies" to the school's health insurance coverage, he said in a statement.

An Aug. 15 news release on the ruling in the college's case noted that another alliance client, Conestoga Wood Specialties in Pennsylvania, won a U.S. District Court order Aug. 14 that permanently enjoining the federal government from enforcing the mandate against the company.

The U.S. Supreme Court June 30 ruled 5-4 that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, both owned by Christian families, were protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act from having to provide coverage they to which they object on religious grounds.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires nearly all employers to cover contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortion-inducing drugs for all employees in their company health plan. It includes a narrow exemption for some religious employers that fit certain criteria.

Aug. 22 is the deadline for the Obama administration to release an alternative to the third-party accommodation that it is drafting for Catholic and other religious nonprofit employers to opt out of the contraceptive mandate.

News reports July 23 said the administration filed a brief with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver indicating it planned to develop the new proposal, and the court set Aug. 22 as the deadline.

The proposal will be an "interim final regulation," so before it is finalized, there will be a comment period set by the government.

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