Frequently Asked Questions regarding
Geneva College v. Sebelius, filed 2/21/2012
1. What was the College’s motivation for filing this lawsuit?
The lawsuit was filed in response to the Obama administration’s unconstitutional mandate that religious employers provide abortion-inducing drugs at no cost to employees as part of their healthcare coverage. We believe the government does not have the right to require religious organizations to act in a way contrary to deeply-held religious beliefs, nor to take to itself the right to define what constitutes the free exercise of religion.
2. Why now?
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publicized their “interim final rules” last August. Geneva and thousands of others filed protests during the window for public comment, which closed September 30. HHS published the wording of the “final rule” in January, with no changes. The rules grandfather our current insurance benefit plans only until such time as we make changes, at which point we are to comply with the new rules. The mandate must be confronted before we become subject to the new rules.
3. How did Geneva deliberate over this decision?
The decision to file a protest of HHS’s new rules was made by the administration in consultation with the Board of Trustees last September, near the end of the window for public comment and during the busy fall semester startup. When the final rule was published in January, attention was focused on formulating an appropriate response. The Trustees voted to proceed with the lawsuit during a conference call on February 10. President Smith announced the intention to file suit on February 16, and feedback from the campus community was overwhelmingly—although not uniformly—positive. The same pattern of feedback has been seen since the press conference on February 21.
4. Does this mean Geneva will not provide contraception drugs as part of its healthcare coverage?
No. Geneva has and intends to continue to provide coverage for birth control drugs that act before conception. The lawsuit is directed toward abortifacient drugs that, although classified by the FDA as contraceptives, act to induce abortions after life has begun. These include the drugs Plan B and Ella, sometimes referred to as “morning-after” or “week-after” pills.
5. Was Geneva paying for these medications before?
Our contract with our health insurance provider contains two specific exclusions. We exclude coverage for elective abortions (with very few exceptions), and we exclude coverage for abortion inducing drugs. We discovered that, because the FDA has labeled certain drugs to which we object as “contraceptives,” our insurance provider has listed these as eligible for coverage. We are working with our health insurance provider to ensure that these drugs are, in fact, excluded from coverage, per the terms of our contract.
6. What about coverage for contraceptive drugs prescribed to treat specific health conditions other than pregnancy?
Drugs prescribed to treat diagnosed medical conditions, not as contraceptives or abortifacients, are covered and the College plans for them to be covered in the future. The purpose of the prescription is relevant.
7. Is the College’s position on abortion new?
No. The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), which founded the college in 1848, holds the position that human life begins at conception. Geneva's policies have long reflected the position of the church in that we have excluded coverage for elective abortions and abortion-inducing drugs from the insurance plans we provide to our employees and students. Reflecting this position, Geneva has participated in community-wide pro-life awareness campaigns, such as Life Ring, sponsored public events in which we have explored the religious dimensions of the abortion issue, and sent groups of students to Washington, DC, to participate in the annual March for Life, supporting the sanctity of human life and opposition to the Roe v. Wade decision.
8. Isn’t this just an exercise in partisan politics?
No. We have been and continue to attempt to be issue-focused and to avoid partisan politics. We have repeatedly communicated our sadness at having reached the point where we felt there was no alternative to a lawsuit, and have emphasized that Geneva has a history of addressing public injustice that dates back to 1850. We have attempted at every turn to stay focused on the core issue: the violation of our constitutionally protected rights of freedom of religion and speech by the HHS mandate that we include abortifacient drugs in our insurance plans.
9. How is this a Constitutional issue?
Our freedom to exercise our religion is guaranteed by the Religion clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and further protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Our freedom of speech is secured by the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. The HHS Preventive Services mandate coerces Geneva to violate the Sixth Commandment under threat of heavy fines and penalties. The mandate also forces the college to fund government-dictated speech in the form of counseling that is directly at odds with the religious message we wish to convey to our students and the broader culture. Thus, both our freedom of religion and our freedom of speech are violated by this government mandate.
10. What about the compromise announced by President Obama on February 10?
We would have welcomed a real modification to the rule being promulgated by HHS; had there been a real accommodation we would likely not have filed suit. Unfortunately, on February 10, the same day President Obama announced there would be a compromise, HHS filed the final rule in the Federal Register with no change. HHS’s announcement also failed to make or even propose any substantive change. Had the President announced that the administration was not going to finalize the rule until it worked out the terms of a compromise, we would have had greater confidence that a real accommodation might be made. As it stands, no compromise exists either in law or regulation. The President’s non-binding suggestion that our insurance company would provide objectionable items “for free” is not plausible, and misses the moral point that HHS will still be forcing us to provide a plan that directly enables the coverage of items that attack human life in violation of our beliefs.
11. Is Geneva paying a lot of money to pursue this action?
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is our legal representation. The ADF provides its services at no cost to us. Only such things as staff time, document preparation, and necessary travel for Geneva staff will be expended by the college directly. Those items are minimal and well worth the defense of our religious freedom. Thus, the legal action is not a financial burden to Geneva College. If we succeed in protecting our religious freedom through the case, Geneva College will avoid having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in government fines each year.
12. What is the status of the lawsuit?
Once a lawsuit is filed, the United States has 60 days to file a response. We are still in that window. Once a response is filed, further papers will be submitted by our ADF attorneys, and this will only be the first round of efforts. We expect that within the next year we will have more guidance from the Court about the direction of the case.
Geneva has earned the approval of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) for its fundraising and financial practices.