Wheaton College Suit Changes Health Rules

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Byline: Marie Wilson mwilson@dailyherald.com By Marie Wilson mwilson@dailyherald.com

A lawsuit filed by Wheaton College helped push the federal government this week to change its guidelines on how religious institutions can qualify for a year's reprieve from a health care reform requirement to cover emergency contraception.

The government now is seeking to dismiss the suit, but attorneys for the college said Friday they plan to continue pursuing the challenge, filed in July, seeking an exemption from the mandate of providing emergency contraception coverage.

[URL]Wheaton College;http://www.wheaton.edu/[/URL] originally was not eligible for a one-year "safe harbor" from the mandate because the college "inadvertently" covered emergency contraceptive drugs such as Plan B and Ella in its insurance plans after the cutoff date of Feb. 1, 2012, according to a legal declaration filed by President Philip Ryken.

Late last year, the Christian liberal arts college "was dismayed to discover that Wheaton's insurance policies did contain objectionable coverage of emergency contraception," Ryken wrote in the declaration. "That coverage was provided inadvertently. It had been included in Wheaton's plans without my knowledge."

Changes the government announced this week appear to make Wheaton College eligible for the one-year break, said Hannah Smith, senior counsel for the [URL]Becket Fund for Religious Liberty;http://www.becketfund.org/[/URL], which is representing Wheaton College and The Catholic University of America in the [URL]jointly filed suit;http://www.becketfund.org/wheaton/[/URL].

"They have rewritten the guidelines so that the 'safe harbor' says if you took measures before Feb. 10, 2012, to correct any inadvertent coverage of these contraceptive drugs, these abortion-inducing drugs, then you will still qualify for the 'safe harbor,'" Smith said.

Wheaton began working with its insurance provider, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois, late last year to remove emergency contraceptive coverage from its three health care plans. The coverage was no longer provided by the end of March.

"We were glad to be able to make those changes because we thought the coverage we had was inconsistent with our convictions," Ryken said Friday.

Wheaton College does not have religious objections to other forms of contraception that it believes do not cause abortion. Smith said the government's changes to "safe harbor" guidelines also made it clear a reprieve can be granted even if a religious institution does not oppose all types of contraception. …