The Obama administration may be a thing of the past, but its contraceptive mandate continues to oppress those with pro-life religious and moral convictions. Institutions which have a religious opposition to providing forms of contraception — notably those forms which can act as abortifacients — are still just now receiving relief. Last October, President Trump fulfilled a campaign promise and rolled back the contraceptive mandate, a move cheered by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Not long after, however, a Pennsylvania judge issued a preliminary injunction against the rollback, claiming it “intrudes… into the lives of women.”
And yet, the tide may be turning. On May 15th, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma found in favor of four Christian universities in the state, in a consolidated case known as Southern Nazarene University v. Azar.
For five years, the four universities (Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Mid-America Christian University) had been seeking the ability to operate according to their Christian, pro-life beliefs. The case had been originally filed with the same federal district court as Southern Nazarene University v. Sebelius.
The contraceptive mandate was dealt a blow by the court — but not merely with regard to the four universities, which are permanently protected. The ruling also found that the mandate is in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was part of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion when ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the court wrote in its decision, “Plaintiffs have demonstrated, and Defendants now concede, that requiring Plaintiffs to comply with [the HHS mandate], to the extent such compliance contradict[s] Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs, violates their rights protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act….”
In 2014, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, the contraceptive mandate was not totally struck down, as the Court’s opinion did not mention non-profit institutions. An 8-0 decision from the Supreme Court in 2016 did not answer that issue, either, but instead sent the consolidated HHS mandate cases — which included not only Southern Nazarene University, but cases involving Priests for Life and Little Sisters of the Poor — back to the lower courts.
The Trump administration, including Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health & Human Services, has declined to defend the contraceptive mandate. This was referenced in the court’s decision, which was signed by Judge Stephen P. Friot, who also stated, “the public interest in the vindication of religious freedom favors the entry of an injunction and declaratory judgment.”
A case snapshot from ADF notes that the mandate already had a poor record of 72-16 in courts. ADF continues to represent several institutions which have filed suit against the mandate.
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