Tennessee Baptist school fights Obamacare

Union University is the latest Baptist institution to file a federal lawsuit challenging an order to provide drugs as part of employee health care plans that they believe cause an abortion.

By Bob Allen

Southern Baptist-affiliated Union University filed a lawsuit April 4 challenging insurance coverage of contraceptives mandated for employers by the federal Affordable Care Act.

The Tennessee Baptist Convention-affiliated school in Jackson, Tenn., joined numerous secular and religious employers who have gone to court citing religious objections either to birth control in general or certain forms they believe ends a human life.

Founded in 1823, Union lays claim to being “the oldest institution affiliated with Southern Baptist life.” The university’s plan was initially “grandfathered in,” exempting it from the contraceptive mandate in rules developed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

dub oliverChanges to the university’s health plan taking effect May 1, however, will cause Union to lose that exemption and require the private Christian school to provide coverage for “women’s preventive services” that include all FDA-approved “contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”

Lawyers for the university claim two pharmaceutical drugs and intrauterine devices on the FDA list of approved methods “can prevent the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall.”

The Baptist Faith and Message, official doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, teaches that life begins at conception. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines conception as “the implantation of a fertilized ovum” in the womb.

Doctors disagree about whether pregnancy starts when the sperm fertilizes the egg or with implantation, about a week later. In practice they count the start of pregnancy from a woman’s last period, about two weeks ahead of when conception actually occurs.

Union University says “sincerely held religious beliefs” prevent it from providing health insurance that covers Plan B, ella or the two intrauterine devices approved by the FDA. “Causing the death of the embryo conflicts with Union University’s beliefs based on Scripture,” the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit says an accommodation relieving eligible organizations of the obligation to “contract, arrange, pay or refer for contraceptive coverage” also violates Union’s religious beliefs. It requires health insurance providers to make separate payments for any contraceptive services required to be covered at no cost to the plan beneficiaries and to notify the beneficiaries that the coverage is available.

Union University’s president-elect, Samuel “Dub” Oliver, applauded his predecessor David Dockery for taking legal action “to defend religious liberty and protect innocent life.” Oliver’s current institution, East Texas Baptist University, joined Houston Baptist University in a lawsuit challenging the rules of Obamacare in 2012.

In December a federal judge ruled in their favor, ordering the government not to enforce the contraceptive mandate on the two schools affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Dockery, president of Union since 1995, announced early in 2013 he would step down from the presidency and assume the honorary position of chancellor no later than July 2014. In February he was elected the 15th president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.

Other challenges involving Baptists include GuideStone v. Sebelius, a class-action lawsuit filed Oct. 11, 2013, led by GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist-affiliated Truett-McConnell College in Georgia and Reaching Souls International, a nonprofit corporation founded by a Southern Baptist minister based in Oklahoma City.

Louisiana College, affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, sued the government in 2012, claiming the contraceptive mandate is unconstitutional. President Joe Aguillard vowed to shut down the school before obeying the contraceptive mandate.