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Judge temporarily blocks government from enforcing health mandate on Geneva College

| Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, 3:09 p.m.

The government can't require a private, religious Beaver Falls college to provide its employees with health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs beginning in January, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Geneva College would be required either to provide coverage or certify that it morally objects to doing so, which would clear the way for a third-party insurance company to provide the coverage.

“The mandate forces Geneva to facilitate access to the objected-to services through the self-certification process,” U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti said in her ruling. “The court previously found that this is a not a line that the government can compel Geneva to cross. The court makes the same finding again.”

A Geneva College spokeswoman couldn't be reached for comment.

If the college refused to cover abortion-inducing drugs, refuses to self-certify or simply drops its insurance, the government will fine it, the judge said in her ruling.

To legally put that kind of pressure on the college, the government has to prove it has a compelling interest and that there's no less restrictive way of meeting that interest. To date, the government has failed to prove either point, Conti ruled.

Conti's ruling marks the fifth time a local federal judge has blocked government enforcement of the mandate.

In the same case, Conti previously granted a temporary injunction preventing the government from requiring the college to cover abortion-inducing drugs in the health plan it offers students. Monday's ruling covers only the employee health plan.

Conti has granted the other plaintiffs in the case, Seneca Hardwood Lumber Co. of Venango County and its owners, a temporary injunction. In addition to the abortion-inducing drugs, the Roman Catholic owners also object to covering contraceptives, sterilizations and related counseling services.

The government has appealed both of those injunctions to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In two other cases, U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab on Friday granted permanent injunctions blocking the government from enforcing the mandate on Catholic Charities and other organizations affiliated with the Pittsburgh and Erie Roman Catholic Dioceses.

The government said in court documents that it's reserving the right to appeal Schwab's rulings.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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