College Wins Lawsuit Against HHS Contraceptive Mandate

Updated: January 15, 2014

Having prevailed in its federal lawsuit against the Obama Administration, Thomas Aquinas College has received a permanent injunction against the HHS Contraceptive Mandate. As a result, the College is exempt from the requirement to offer abortifacient and contraceptive coverage to its employees, and may continue providing comprehensive health insurance in accordance with Catholic teaching. The government has until February 18 to appeal the ruling.

On December 20, 2013, Judge Amy Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed that the HHS Mandate substantially burdened the College’s exercise of religion. Citing technical details of the College’s self-insurance program and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Judge Jackson entered summary judgment on behalf of the College and issued a permanent injunction barring the U.S. Government from enforcing the mandate against it.

Judge Jackson found that because of the manner in which Thomas Aquinas College self-insures, the challenged regulations of the HHS mandate would have forced the College to help facilitate access to contraceptive and abortifacient services. Since the College testified that access to such services is contrary to its Catholic principles, the Court found that the regulations substantially burden the College’s free exercise of religion, and thus issued the permanent injunction.

“In the case of a self-insured entity like Thomas Aquinas, the newly enacted regulations fall short of the mark,” said Judge Jackson in her ruling. “Since the accommodation imposes a duty upon the religious organization to contract with a willing third-party administrator that will arrange for the payments for contraceptives, they compel the organization to take affirmative steps — to do something — that is in conflict with the tenets of its faith. And therefore, defendants are enjoined from enforcing the mandate against Thomas Aquinas College.”

The reason the College self-insures dates back to 1994, when the State of California enacted a law requiring insurance companies to provide contraceptive benefits. In order to avoid furnishing unethical coverage — while at the same time remaining in compliance with the law — the College became a member of the Reta Trust. A “self-funded benefit trust,” Reta provides for only those benefits that “are in compliance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services published by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.” Thanks to this arrangement, for nearly 20 years the College has been exempt from the California regulation — and now from the HHS Mandate.

The Court, however, denied relief to the College’s co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit, most notably the Archbishop of Washington (D.C.) and The Catholic University of America. Those institutions will appeal their ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

“While we are delighted with Judge Jackson’s ruling concerning Thomas Aquinas College in this matter, we deeply regret that our co-plaintiffs did not receive similar rulings,” says Thomas Aquinas College President Michael F. McLean. “We stand with the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America, and all our co-plaintiffs, and we pledge our prayers that they, too, will be successful in securing their religious liberties.” Noting that the government could still appeal the College’s exemption from the mandate, Dr. McLean asked that the College’s friends and supporters continue their prayers in its behalf.