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Christian college loses HHS contraceptive challenge

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(Bloomberg) — The Obama administration won a reversal of a court ruling that would have shielded a Christian college from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation requiring religious nonprofits to indirectly facilitate contraceptive coverage even if they oppose the use because of their faith.

HHS created the mandate when it developed the basic preventive services benefits package required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Nonprofit religious groups can claim an exception under the HHS mandate, then ask an insurer or benefit plan administrator to take responsibility for providing contraceptive services benefits for the affected workers. The accommodation to the contraceptive-coverage provision, which requires nonprofits to notify their insurers, places “no substantial burden” on the college, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday in Philadelphia, overturning a lower-court judge.

Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa., argued that the accommodation forces it to trigger the provision of insurance coverage for contraceptive services to which it is opposed on religious grounds. The very act of notifying its insurer through a self-certification form requires the college to be “complicit” in sin, according to court papers.

The appeals court disagreed. The HHS mandate provides an “opt-out mechanism” that shifts to third parties the obligation to provide contraceptive coverage allowing religious groups to wash their hands of any involvement, the court ruled.

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“The regulations accommodate the interests of religious institutions that provide health services, while not curtailing the public interest that motivates the federally mandated requirement that such services shall be provided to women free of charge,” the court said in its ruling.

The court ruling also covers two Catholic dioceses that had challenged the provision.

The case is Geneva College v. Secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13-3536, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Philadelphia).

See also: Religious challenges to HHS contraceptive rules tossed.