August 27, 2012
Wheaton College's HHS Contraception Lawsuit Dismissed After Prompting 'Safe Harbor' Rewrite
Rewrite of "safe harbor" policy gives religious colleges one more year to comply.
A federal judge dismissed Wheaton College's lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services's new contraception mandate on Friday, after the legal challenge — among 23 others — prompted a last-minute rewrite of the mandate's compliance deadline.
Wheaton is considering an appeal of the lawsuit's dismissal because "despite qualifying for the 'safe harbor,' not complying with the mandate during that safe harbor period technically places the college in violation of federal law," according to the Becket Fund.
Wheaton originally filed suit against the Obama administration for a "preliminary injunction" against the HHS mandate after the school originally did not qualify for the "one-year 'safe harbor,' which the government offered to certain religious organizations as a temporary reprieve from the HHS mandate."
The D.C. federal district court granted the motion to dismiss the case, stating, "Wheaton has not alleged a concrete and imminent injury." The "safe harbor" policy revision now buys time for religious institutions to implement the mandate, which requires faith-based organizations to offer contraceptive coverage to female employees.
“The government has now re-written the ‘safe harbor’ guidelines three times in seven months, and is evidently in no hurry to defend the HHS mandate in open court,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Wheaton in the case. “By moving the goalposts yet again, the government managed to get Wheaton’s lawsuit dismissed on purely technical grounds. This leaves unresolved the question of religious liberty at the heart of the lawsuit.”