Supreme Court to Hear Westminster's Case

February 9, 2016

The United States Supreme Court has accepted for review Westminster Theological Seminary’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Westminster filed the lawsuit because it objects to the regulations enacted under the Affordable Care Act that require the seminary to provide abortifacients (drugs and devices that can cause abortions), including the morning-after pill, to its employees under its health insurance policy.

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Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, employers with more than fifty full-time employees are mandated to provide various kinds of birth control. Studies have shown that some of these contraceptives, so-called “abortifacients,” either destroy fertilized eggs or cause them not to implant in the uterine wall. While Westminster does not object to the use of all contraceptives, the seminary is bound by conscience not to provide abortifacients to its employees. In early 2013, Westminster’s Board of Trustees, by unanimous resolution, voted to file suit against the government, challenging the abortifacient mandate imposed by regulations enacted under the Affordable Care Act.

Westminster Board member and attorney Kenneth Wynne filed Westminster’s challenge in an existing suit in Houston, Texas, brought originally by Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University. The district court ruled in our favor on the basis of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Government appealed, and then prevailed in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, a party in a similar case prevailed in another federal appellate court. These different outcomes in the circuit courts, coupled with the importance of the issue, provided a basis for the Supreme Court to review our challenge. Thus, in early November 2015, the Supreme Court granted Westminster’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari, which means that the Supreme Court agreed to hear our case and will render a decision by the end of the term (June 30, 2016).

Westminster is blessed to be affiliated with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Becket Fund acted as counsel for our co-plaintiffs in the trial court in Houston and in our appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Becket Fund has retained eminent Supreme Court advocate Paul Clement to be the Counsel of Record on the appeal and to present oral argument on our behalf. Mr. Clement represented Hobby Lobby in its successful case under the Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court last year. Our counsel, board member Kenneth Wynne, has been instrumental in getting the seminary to the position it is in today and will continue to work closely with the Becket Fund and Mr. Clement as the case proceeds. The Supreme Court heard our oral arguments on March 23rd, 2016. We covet the prayers of the Westminster community and all others who care about these important issues of conscience and religious liberty.

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