Arguing that the accommodation created for non-profits with religious objections to contraceptive coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a way to force nonprofits to comply with the mandate rather than a means of exemption, Geneva College filed a petition for a writ of certiorari before the Supreme Court. The petition requests that the court review the decision of the Third Circuit, which ruled that the accommodation that allows non-profits to self-certify their religious objections and third-party insurers to provide the objectionable coverage.
Under the ACA (P.L. 111-148), most employers are required to provide contraceptive coverage in their employees’ health plans. While churches are exempted from this requirement, nonprofit religious organizations such as Geneva College are provided an accommodation with regard to this requirement. Pursuant to the accommodation, the organizations with religious objections may self-certify those objections by filling out a form, which will facilitate the transfer of the coverage of objectionable goods and services to third-party insurance providers.
Geneva College opposed the ACA provisions that required employers to provide health care coverage to employees that included coverage of abortifacients. A district court in Pennsylvania granted Geneva’s motion for a preliminary injunction of the accommodation requirements. The court found that the college was likely to proceed on the merits of its claim that the accommodation violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) (P.L. 103-141) (see Geneva College wins second challenge to contraceptive coverage requirements, Health Reform WK-EDGE, December 31, 2013).
Third Circuit and beyond
The Third Circuit disagreed with the findings of the district court and held that the accommodation did not substantially burden the college. The simple act of filling out the form, according to that court, removed the nonprofits from the obligation of having to provide the objectionable coverage (see Catholics stay clean: form submission ‘washes their hands’ of involvement with contraceptive coverage, Health Reform WK-EDGE, February 18, 2015).
Subsequent to the Third Circuit’s decision, Geneva College, along with a group of other religious charities and nonprofits, requested that the Supreme Court delay the enforcement of that decision, which provided that abortifacients must still be provided under employees’ health plans. Without ruling on whether the decision of the Third Circuit was correct or not, the court declined the request (see Supreme Court will allow Third Circuit ruling to take effect, Health Reform WK-EDGE, July 1, 2015).
Geneva College argued that the government’s allegation that the accommodation provided “seamless” coverage highlighted the fact that the religious objectors were still included in the coverage of the abortifacients. “Upon executing an objection form or notice, Geneva’s involvement in abortifacient coverage begins, rather than ends…. This leads Geneva and other religious nonprofits to be complicit in providing abortifacient coverage.” Further, Geneva suggests that this case presents the ideal “clean vehicle” for the court to present the issues in question as “relevant facts have never been disputed by either side, and no judge below suggested any deficiencies in the record.”