Oct. 16--Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University in Marshall are suing the federal government over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act provision that requires employers to cover contraception in worker health insurance plans.
The Act, also known as "Obamacare, now requires group health plans to pay for various preventive services for women at no cost to the recipient, such as "FDA-approved contraception methods." Those include "Plan B," known as the "morning-after pill" and a drug called "Ella," which may prevent pregnancy up to five days after sex.
According to the suit, the universities believe that use of Plan B and Ella can cause abortion. The complaint, filed in Houston federal court against several federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, alleges that the mandate is unconstitutional because it violates the universities' beliefs.
The suit is one of the latest filed by lawyers from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based firm that has specialized in religious freedom cases for nearly two decades.
"We think it's wrong for the federal government to force religious groups to act in ways that violate their conscience," said HBU President Robert B. Sloan. "It is against our conscience to provide abortion-producing drugs and that's part of the mandate and we won't do it. The government has no right to force that."
East Texas has an extensive explanation of its fight against the coverage provision displayed on a "Defending Religious Liberty" section of its web site and calls one emergency contraceptive "a close analogue to the abortion drug RU-486."
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Ella and Plan B are not indicated for termination of an existing pregnancy.
The universities have joined other Catholic and evangelical Christian employers who are fighting the health reform mandate on constitutional and religious grounds. Group health insurance plans are subject to the contraceptive requirement starting with the first plan year that begins on or after Aug. 1, 2012.
According to the court filing, this was the 32nd case challenging the same federal regulations or based on similar grounds and the first in the Southern District of Texas. Other cases were filed in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' jurisdiction by Louisiana College -- another private, Baptist institution -- and Roman Catholic dioceses in Dallas, Fort Worth and Biloxi, Miss.
Similar lawsuits have been dismissed. A federal judge in Missouri threw out a Catholic businessman's case this month, ruling that the contraception mandate does not violate the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiff has appealed.
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