A federal judge reinstated Geneva College’s lawsuit against the health insurance contraceptive mandate Thursday after acknowledging that the school is experiencing immediate harm from the mandate. Geneva—a Christian college in Beaver Falls, Pa., affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America—objects to providing insurance coverage to employees and students that includes Plan B (the so-called “morning-after” pill) and Ella (the “week-after” pill).
The same judge, U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti, dismissed Geneva’s suit in March on the grounds that the federal government hadn’t finalized the mandate, and so the college didn’t have standing to sue. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to release the final contraceptive regulations by August.
Geneva asked the judge to reconsider, presenting evidence that the school is already considering whether to drop its student health plan for the next school year based on its objections to the mandate as it stands. HHS’ proposals on changing the mandate haven’t given the school any real hope that it can comply without violating its biblical principles. The school must notify students by May 13 if it is dropping its insurance plan. The judge agreed the college is already suffering the effects of the mandate. (Download a PDF of the judge’s ruling.)
“Geneva is no longer planning for some indefinite event in the future,” Conti wrote. The judge also said the federal government “failed to build sufficient lead time” for schools like Geneva to make plans for the mandate.
“At this time all plaintiffs like Geneva have to rely on, until a final rule is published, are the existing final rules and the proposed rules,” the judge wrote. “Geneva is potentially without any ‘final’ guidance (as defendants would define it) until the very day it is expected to have a student health insurance plan in place—a process that, in reality, can take many months.” The judge dismissed some of the counts in Geneva's lawsuit but kept its core allegations.
Several other schools—Wheaton College and Franciscan University, among others—have watched judges dismiss their lawsuits against the mandate on the same grounds Conti used to dismiss Geneva’s initially. But Conti noted those schools’ insurance plans weren’t necessarily under the same time crunch as Geneva’s. The ruling thus might have little impact on the other Christian colleges unless they can present facts like Geneva did showing that they are also facing immediate decisions on their insurance coverage.