Wheaton College sues administration over contraception mandate
July 18th, 2012
11:49 AM ET

Wheaton College sues administration over contraception mandate

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN's Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN)–Wheaton College, the most prominent evangelical higher education institution in the United States, has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over a mandate to provide contraceptive coverage.

The Illinois school joins Catholic counterparts Catholic University and the University of Notre Dame in filing suits to stop a Health and Human Services mandate to provide birth control coverage to their employees.

The move is significant because the new evangelical opposition to the policy—coming not just from Catholic institutions - could have election-year political fallout.

The HHS mandate requires employers to provide free contraception coverage to their employees. Although the plan exempted churches, other religiously affiliated employers, including colleges and hospitals, were not exempt.

In the face of that opposition, the Department of Health and Human Services tweaked its original rule in February to require health insurers, not employers, to cover the cost of contraception coverage, reasoning that would prevent religious groups from having to finance such coverage.

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Despite the change in policy many of those groups have said the mandate remains a violation of their beliefs against contraceptives. Catholic teaching forbids the use of any contraceptives. Many evangelicals do not oppose the use of contraceptives, but believe life begins at conception and say some contraceptives, like emergency contraceptives, induce abortions.

The government mandate covers all forms of FDA approved contraceptives and the administration has said time and again they felt the policy and its exceptions "struck the right balance" on religious freedoms and providing health care for people who need it.

The suit was filed Wednesday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for the college by the Becket Fund, the same law firm that is representing multiple lawsuits against the HHS policy.

Key Catholic group drops support for White House contraception plan

In their filing attorney's wrote the mandate, "runs roughshod over Wheaton’s religious beliefs, and the beliefs of millions of other Americans, by forcing it to provide health insurance coverage for abortifacient drugs and related education and counseling."

Should the university not abide by the new mandate they are subject to fines. While many religious groups were provided an extension of one year to adhere to the mandate, Wheaton said because of technical reasons with their insurance provider they were ineligible for that extension.

In a conference call with reporters about the lawsuit, Wheaton College President Philip Graham Ryken, said the the penalties for not following the mandate, “would amount to $1.4 million in fines annually for faculty and staff alone.”

The lawsuit is seeking, "declaratory and injunctive relief to protect against this attack."

Wheaton College is known as the premier evangelical Christian college in the United States. It counts Billy Graham and former speaker of the House Dennis Hastert as alumni. The school has 2,400 undergraduates.

The school said the timing of the lawsuit stemmed from the fall semester rapidly approaching.

"I’ll welcome my first freshman in two weeks,” Ryken said. We're already needing to figure out how we're going to provide insurance coverage this academic year."

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On the call, Ryken, who was joined by his counterpart John Garvey the president of Catholic University, pushed back against assertions the timing of the lawsuit was politically motivated, coming in the midst of a heated presidential campaign.

“The timing of the lawsuit is not something we have chosen," Garvey said. "HHS has chosen to put these rules in effect and we’re crowded up against our own internal deadlines for accepting new students and renegotiating insurance contracts.”

Garvey added he saw this as an issue for both parties. "Religious freedom is something we hope Republicans and Democrats will be attentive to," he said.

“Wheaton College is not a partisan institution,” Ryken added. “The effect of our lawsuit on the political process played no role at all in any our discussions with our board of trustees on the issue."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Belief • Catholic Church • Faith & Health • Politics

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soundoff (318 Responses)
  1. floyd schrodinger

    If a religious organization "plays" in the secular world, they need to abide by the secular rules. The government will not step into your house of worship and demand anything, not even taxes. Any service (business, hall for rent, hospital, etc.) open to the public or for public use falls under the laws of the land. We are a country of laws.

    July 20, 2012 at 7:11 am |

    Just because it is offered does not mean its use is required. This is about personal choice – something many religions are against.

    July 20, 2012 at 7:03 am |
  3. saggyroy

    Will Wheaton has a college?

    July 20, 2012 at 6:32 am |
  4. evolved one

    Come on already Wheaton.....hearing this sort of nonsense is getting tedious.

    July 20, 2012 at 12:38 am |
  5. 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

    K – you continue to throw up bullshit about intangibles when the issue is the lack of any evidence for any god.

    Re: what would I accept as proof of a god, nothing less than a personal visit along with a verifiable and permanent miracle such as the elimination of child hunger and child abuse (especially by god's representatives on Earth).

    July 19, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • saggyroy

      ...for starters

      July 20, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  6. Iris

    Who wrote this copy? Attorneys, plural, not attorney's, possessive. What a pathetically elementary error.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hey, tell that to the bozo Kalessin. The moron thinks it is correct to write "the point get's lost".

      July 19, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  7. Realist

    I have no problem with that,, if we these schools no longer receive government grants and if a kid wants to go there,, no student loan guarantees with our tax dollar.

    We should do this anyways.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  8. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    It's just wrong to interfere with God's plan for one's uterus. Drugs are so unnatural.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How desperate must one be to use my screen name? I mean, really, dear? Are you that lame?

      July 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      It's apparently 'the thing to do' right now.

      Kind of childish really.

      July 19, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Na na na na na
      gu gu da da

      July 19, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • rstrahs

      Then it is also wrong to interfere with "god's plan" for these kids educations. I mean giving them a government funded grant to pay for their education sounds like it must be interfering as well then. I am sure their are churches that can support these educations without using Government funds that could be used in better places such as bringing our Economy back to where it needs to be. I mean if a Religious Organization can spend millions of dollars to send missionaries overseas to help people they don't even know, then why can they not use some of that money to pay for their own members educational needs. That sounds more like "god's plan" to me.

      July 20, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  9. JonfromLI

    Every time I hear about stories like this I have to remind myself that we're NOT living in Medieval Times.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • gerald

      Yes it's far worse. Gays are thought to be able to marry and we murder 1/4 to 1/3 of our population while it is still in it's mother's womb. Everyone is sleeping with everyone, begetting children who have to have DNA tests to figure out who their father is and having to take penecilian or some other drug for the rest of their life because of what they got from their mother. Things have gotten just so much better.

      July 19, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • WASP

      @jerald: ummmm i would say fewer mothers dying during birthing a success; research into life saving medicine, study of the cosmos, advancements in prostectics, fewer people dying of disease, global governments talking instead of going straight to war, hygene, better food stuffs, better technology to preserve food, medicines to prevent premature prenancy, fairer treatment regardless of race, creed, ethnic background, gender or s-e-xual orientation.
      so i would say the world is A LOT better than the death, war-torn and disease ridden place it once was.
      but what do i know, i'm just an atheist that doesn't buy into your view of waiting for any god to come play house maid and fix human problems.......but you enjoy that wait.

      July 20, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • gerald

      Every baby dies in an abortion. 50 million in he us alone. Far more than all the wars put together in the US.

      July 21, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • gerald

      By the way your position is nonsense. You are saying it is all good. Well a nuclear bomb that can kill millions in an instance, is that good or bad? Since you say that preserving life has made things better seems like you have a dilema on your hands.

      July 21, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      70+% of all abortions in the USA are had by believers. Go clean up your cult's backyard!

      July 21, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  10. Kate

    Good grief, everytime my alma mater is in the news it's for something stupid or ridiculous they've done! The last time I was reading about Wheaton was when they FIRED a professor for converting to Catholicism, a much older form of Christianity than any brand of evangelicalism. So now it's ok to get in bed with the Catholics when it's to fight some imagined form of persecution. I got the email from Phil Ryken the other day and read it at work and almost yakked.

    Here's the deal - If you don't believe abortion is a good choice, don't have one; if you don't want to use contraception, don't but please be responsible and financially support the consequences; if you don't want to have a child you can't support after you get pregnant by mistake, be thoughtful and careful about your decision but ultimately it is YOUR decision. This bill does not fund abortion, it funds contraception. They are splitting hairs about certain forms of contraception that offend their religious sensibilities. However, the old white men who are generally the ones calling the shots at places like Wheaton (don't believe me? check out the portraits of past presidents...) are not likely to be the ones dealing with the consequences of no access to contraceptives. And in case this isn't stupid enough, what about those women who need contraceptive medication to deal with things other than pregnancy such as hormone imbalances, menopausal problems and other medical issues? Tough luck, ladies, just suck it up?!?

    One of these days I'm going to burn my diploma...this kind of political grandstanding crap mocks the wonderful years of education and the many thoughtful, insightful and challenging professors I had over the years. Stick to the school thing and get the heck out of politics. (Oh, wait, they have a building named after Denny Hastert on campus now...God help us...)

    July 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • StevenR

      Huh. Their political action offends me. I suggest we remove their tax exemption. If they want to fight reasonable regulation, I suggest they STOP STEALING MY MONEY. For JESUS SAKE! Pay for their own roads and police protection rather than making ME pay for it then COMPLAINING.

      July 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      thanks for the first person post from a Wheatonian. What's your impression of this statement: "Wheaton College is not a partisan inst.tution."

      I don't buy it, but you have a better sense of this that I do.

      July 19, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • J.S.

      As a fellow Wheaton alum/student, I'm disappointed by how childish and unmeasured your comment is. I would expect better.

      The issue, if you would mind reading some of President Ryken's statements more thoroughly, is primarily about religious liberty. Please go read more carefully, and replace the venom in your words with a bit of charity.

      July 19, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • kway

      Grow up, girlfriend. Abortificacients are included in the mandate. Your school is tackling the attack on religious freedom.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:06 am |
  11. Loopman

    Are these folks so stupid to think that if they choose not to offer contraception that their employees won't bother to use it. Real naive for a bunch of academics. More like misguided fools. And as a response to Bill Deacon's comment about people who support the right to life being compelled to susidize those who do not. Bill, Have you thought long and hard about how long the general public has paid their taxes just to have that money used to pay for food, shelter and health care for a woman who is a right to life believer who won't stop shelling out little one's in support of her churches doctrine against birth control? Which outcome do you really think is costing more money?

    July 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • StevenR

      No. If they were TRULY RELIGIOUS they would not worry about having contraception available. Their LOYAL FLOCK would listen to the WISE OLD WHITE MAN up front and do what he says.

      July 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  12. Kalessin

    Good grief, if the college pays taxes or benefits from the Govt in any business like way....then do what the govt requires of your employees.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • StevenR

      Until they forgo their tax exemption and pay their own way, they should simply SHUT UP!

      July 19, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  13. Ludwig

    1. Wheaton denies contraception as part of their health plan.
    2. Sales of coat hangers to Wheaton students rise dramatically.
    3. Coat Hanger Lobby makes sizable donation to Wheaton College and has a building named after it.
    Hmmm . . .

    July 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  14. Ratt

    Nobody is forcing religion on you atheist sob's. You want birth control pills, PAY FOR THEM YOURSELF. $18 bucks at Target for a months supply. This has nothing to do with health, it's all about your hatred for the Christians. This lil battle is one Obambi should have left alone, gona cost him dearly come November.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • WASP

      fine then you religious folks wouldn't mind paying for your ERECTILE DISFUNCTION MEDICINE either. some females require birth control to mantain their estrogen levels, do you need insurance to cover your d!ck medicine? will you die if you can't get an erection? no? i didn't think so. females that can't get medicine for dangerously low estrogen levels, which birth control does fix, suffer inagony due to this condition.

      July 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • StevenR

      Yes, but RELIGION is forcing ME to PAY FOR IT!


      July 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • StevenR

      Yes, but RELIGION is forcing ME to PAY FOR IT! You are tax exempt. It is MY MONEY you are using to YELL AT ME!


      July 19, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  15. chuckie

    In 50 years, when people ask why religion is insignificant in America, historians will point a finger at Karl Rove. Rove's creepy use of Christianity and politics is disgusting. And people with an IQ over 50 are starting to figure it out. Oh sure, there are pockets of trailer parks that are still gullible, but we are on to it. Shocking that the Rove, the head of the GOP, has never been elected to anything in his life.

    July 19, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Me

      He was never elected, but he was president for eight years.

      July 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  16. Jim

    It blows my mind that the government spends tons of money to keep chemicals out of us then turns around and says that we have to pay to put chemicals in women to keep them from getting pregnant. And oh yeah you could get blood clots and die, or a stroke and die, or get severely depressed and kill yourself. I wonder what evil pharm corporation has Obama in thier pocket for him to be pushing this.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      number one, you act like taking the pill is mandatory. it's a contraceptive issue, which means a health issue, so yes, it should be covered by a health plan. and presenting side effects as if they are the norm is a logical fallacy. stop forcing your religious beliefs on others. no one is forcing you to use the pill. no one is forcing anyone to take the pill. don't want to use it? don't.

      July 19, 2012 at 2:46 am |
    • WASP

      "Evangelicals are against the use of chemical contraceptives because they can cause fetuses to be aborted, and they ARE against abortion."

      1) plan "b" doesn't abort anything. it prevents the egg from implanting in the womb;at that point it is just a group of fertilized cells.

      2) medical coverage for you erectile disfunction is ok but if a female doesn't want to get pregnant or needs the boost of estregen to remain healthy it's not ok to cover it under insurance? you're such a hypocrite. you can live fine without your "little blue pill" some females have major complications if they can't afford to get birth control pills.

      3)do any of you argueing against birth control coverage even understand what it does to a human female? let me give you a hint: it tricks their body into believeing it is pregnant by upping the level of estrogen in their bodies.
      some females have problems producing appropriate amounts of estrogen and doctors found that having a daily dose of birth control medicine helpped their bodies make up for this lower level which causes females extensive pain without it.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:21 am |
  17. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    The reality of se-x, contraception and STD control: – from a guy who enjoys intelligent se-x-

    Note: Some words hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter. ...

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity:

    : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill (8.7% actual failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% actual failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom (33 cents ea from http://www.amazon.com with free shipping i.e. no hardship and therefore should not be provided by Obamacare).

    July 18, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • smb04d

      What's "intelligent se-x"? I don't think I've ever heard of that before...Do you read articles and books whilst j-aying off?

      July 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Reality

      intelligent se-x-: Always using proper protection while having intercourse or having s-ex in any form.

      Added details:

      from the CDC-2006

      "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

      And from:

      Consumer Reports, January, 2012

      "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

      Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

      "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'" (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

      Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the "stupid part of the USA" and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

      The most effective forms of contraception, ranked by "Perfect use":

      – (Abstinence, 0% failure rate)
      – (Masturbation, mono or mutual, 0% failure rate)

      Followed by:
      One-month injectable and Implant (both at 0.05 percent)
      Vasectomy and IUD (Mirena) (both at 0.1 percent)
      The Pill, Three-month injectable, and the Patch (all at 0.3 percent)
      Tubal sterilization (at 0.5 percent)
      IUD (Copper-T) (0.6 percent)
      Periodic abstinence (Post-ovulation) (1.0 percent)
      Periodic abstinence (Symptothermal) and Male condom (both at 2.0 percent)
      Periodic abstinence (Ovulation method) (3.0 percent)

      Every other method ranks below these, including Withdrawal (4.0), Female condom (5.0), Diaphragm (6.0), Periodic abstinence (calendar) (9.0), the Sponge (9.0-20.0, depending on whether the woman using it has had a child in the past), Cervical cap (9.0-26.0, with the same caveat as the Sponge), and Spermicides (18.0).

      July 19, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You hadda ask, didn't you, smb? See what happens when you ask this idiot a question?

      July 19, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  18. Sam Yaza

    well golly if your opposed to it good but when you have someone working for you who is not but needs the coverage then allow it,, stop pushing your beliefs on others,.. oh and God is not pro life, hes quit the opposite


    July 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  19. CatsEyeAngie

    I think it should be up to the individual. If a person wants it covered fine, if not, fine. No group of people, religious, political or otherwise has the right to make that kind of decision. These people want their own religious freedom but do not want anyone else to have the same freedom. I say their needs to be a counter suit from another non-radical religious group saying that they want it covered. The government can't make everyone happy.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Jan

      @catseye. I think you may not understand the real issue. The government is telling businesses what they have to do for their employees. When they do that, it is supposed to be related to protecting employees from workplace abuse. Medical coverage of contraceptives/abortion inducing pills is not about protecting abused employees. The government is overstepping the bounds of the workplace – telling a company what they have to buy. This isn't a faith issue – there are many, many people who get that if the govt can force employers to buy this, what else will they start mandating/taxing?

      July 19, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • StevenR

      Until churches forgo their tax exemptions, they should simply SHUT UP.

      July 19, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  20. Joshua Ludd

    They aren't catholic? Then its not against their religion. End of story.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Jim

      Evangelicals are against the use of chemical contraceptives because they can cause fetuses to be aborted, and they ARE against abortion.

      July 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Jan

      Muslims, Jews and Lutherans have all testified in congress against this mandate/tax. It is requiring employers to buy something that they don't need nor want and it is not something that protects employees from workplace abuse.

      Also, very few people know that Pres Obama filed the mandate/tax without the partial (not full) exemption that he had publicly stated he would make.

      July 19, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Jim, while I agree with your statement that some believe that abortion is wrong and that is the root of their opposition to birth control, placing the debate on those grounds plays into your opponent's hands. Making it a public health issue or a employment issue allows them to skirt the real issue which is freedom of religion. Catholics and other right to life supporters are not required to make the case against birth control or contraception in this issue. What is at stake is the power of the government to tax as a way to change behavior against religious belief. The particular religious belief does not need to be defended, the right to belief it and to live according to it is. People who support the right to life should not be compelled to subsidize those who do not.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • WASP

      @bill: this has nothing to do with babies or the making of babies. it a topic dealing with females that need a medicine covered by insurance which most if not all legal companies have to pay into. doctors found that for women suffering from low estrogen they can take birth control medicine and it helps up their level of estrogen to levels it would normally be in an average female.
      here is a trade you pay for your own ED medicine,just to make it fair.

      July 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.