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Wheaton College Reinstates HHS Lawsuit

A case one judge dismissed as premature is reinstated after federal court ruling.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday handed Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College a victory in their challenges to the HHS preventative services mandate.

Wheaton College filed suit in July in the D.C. District Court opposing the Health and Human Services (HHS) “Preventative Services” mandate, which "forces both institutions to violate their deeply held religious beliefs or pay severe fines," according to an announcement on the college's website.

With the Affordable Care Act, effective beginning in August, most health insurance plans to cover preventive services for women, including recommended contraception without charging a co-pay, co-insurance or deductible, according to a White House press release

Two lower courts dismissed the Wheaton and Belmont cases as premature, according to a Wheaton College press release. 

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"On Tuesday, the appellate court reinstated those cases, and ordered the Obama Administration to report back every 60 days—starting in mid-February—until the Administration makes good on its promise to issue a new rule that protects the Colleges’ religious freedom. The new rule must be issued by March 31, 2013."

Wheaton College President Dr. Phillip Ryken said in a statement the college is grateful that the ruling clarifies the original judge's error. 

"We are suffering real harm as a result of the HHS mandate," he said. "We stand ready to resume our pending lawsuit if the federal government fails to respect our rights of religious conscience by providing the exemption we have requested."

The court based its decision on two concessions government lawyers made in open court, according to the release.

"First, the government promised “it would never enforce [the mandate] in its current form” against Wheaton, Belmont Abbey or other similarly situated religious groups. Second, the government promised it would publish a proposed new rule 'in the first quarter of 2013' and would finalize it by next August. The administration made both concessions under intense questioning by the appellate judges."

The court deemed the concessions a “binding commitment” and has retained jurisdiction over the case to ensure the government follows through, according to the release.

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