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SCOTUS punts on birth control lawsuit

Wow.

Zubik v. Burwell was supposed to be an epic showdown over the power of religious objectors to limit the rights of others. A sequel to the Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Zubik involved regulations expanding women’s access to birth control that the conservative justices appeared to endorse in Hobby Lobby — even as they struck down a more direct method of providing contraceptive coverage to working women.

At oral arguments, however, the four remaining conservatives seemed to have a change of heart. Even Justice Anthony Kennedy, the justice who signaled the loudest in Hobby Lobby that he would tolerate the kind of regulations at issue in Zubik, appeared openly hostile towards the Obama administration’s arguments. The case seemed to be barreling towards a 4-4 non-decision. If conservative Justice Antonin Scalia had not died last February, it is all but certain that the case would have ended in a crushing defeat for the administration and for many women who hoped to benefit from the administration’s birth control rules.

But that’s not going to happen — at least not yet. On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down a brief, three-page opinion that effectively punts the case until next year at the earliest (and, presumably, after someone has been confirmed to fill Justice Scalia’s seat). The opinion explicitly “expresses no view on the merits” of Zubik and a raft of related cases. Instead, it sends these cases back down to the lower courts to consider the views expressed by both parties in supplemental briefing requested by the justices themselves.

[…]

As the Supreme Court notes in Monday’s opinion, the administration “has confirmed that the challenged procedures ‘for employers with insured plans could be modified to operate in the manner posited in the Court’s order while still ensuring that the affected women receive contraceptive coverage seamlessly, together with the rest of their health coverage.’” However, that’s not the end of the story. The administration also explained to the Court that the justices’ proposed compromise may not work for employers that self-insure (that is, employers who pay out health claims directly to employees rather than joining them into a broader insurance pool).

In any event, the one thing that’s absolutely clear from the Court’s very brief, unsigned opinion inZubik is that it will not resolve any of the nuances of how employers should exempt themselves, what should happen to women who seek birth control after an employer exempts itself, and whether self-insurance or other situations present unique problems that call for a distinct rule. The Court wants this case to go away, at least for now.

See here for the background. This is just amazing. SCOTUSBlog provides some further analysis:

One reading of Monday’s developments was that the Court, now functioning with eight Justices, was having difficulty composing a majority in support of a definite decision on the legal questions. Thus, what emerged had all of the appearance of a compromise meant to help generate majority support among the Justices. With this approach, the Court both achieved the practical results of letting the government go forward to provide the contraceptive benefits and freeing the non-profits of any risk of penalties, even though neither side has any idea — at present — what the ultimate legal outcome will be and, therefore, what their legal rights actually are under the mandate.

Those uncertainties are now likely to linger through the remainder of President Obama’s term in office, which ends next January. The appeals courts may well order the filing of new legal briefs, and may hold new hearings, before issuing a new round of rulings on the controversy. However, the entire future of the ACA, including its birth-control mandate, may now depend upon who wins the presidential election this year and which party has control of Congress when it reassembles in 2017.

The three issues that the Court had agreed to rule on, and then left hanging at least for now, were whether the ACA mandate violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act by requiring religious non-profits that object to contraceptives to notify the government of that position, whether the government had a “compelling interest” in assuring cost-free access to contraceptives, and whether the move by the government to go ahead and arrange access to those benefits for those non-profits’ employees and students was the “least restrictive means” to carry out the mandate.

Doing on Monday much the same that it had done in several temporary orders at earlier stages of this controversy, the Court accepted that the non-profits already had given the federal government sufficient notice of their objection to the mandate, and that the government could use that notice as the basis for going ahead to provide actual access, at no cost, to the employees and students of those institutions.

The unsigned opinion that the Chief Justice announced included an attempt to explain why the Court was bypassing a definitive ruling on the legal issues. It cited the replies that both sides had filed, after the cases had been argued, in reaction to a suggested compromise plan devised by the Court.

The Court on Monday interpreted those filings as containing concessions that move the two sides somewhat closer together, but at the least provided a basis for letting the federal appeals courts be the first to analyze the meaning and impact of those concessions. The Court expressed the hope that the two sides would use this new opportunity, in the appeals courts, to work toward common ground that would protect the religious sensibilities of the non-profit institutions at the same time that women of child-bearing age would not be deprived of contraceptive devices and methods.

“We anticipate,” the Court said, “that the courts of appeals will allow the parties sufficient time to resolve any outstanding issues between them.” That appeared to be an invitation for the lower courts at least to explore whether the two sides could reach agreement without prolonging the court battles. It conceded, though, that there may still be “areas of disagreement” between the two sides.

It may just be my cynicism showing, but I don’t expect any of the litigants to go seeking common ground. This was from the beginning an ideological fight, and they’re not going to settle for anything less than victory. As the Trib noted, the district court in Texas originally found for the plaintiffs, HBU and East Texas Baptist University, but the Fifth Circuit overturned that verdict. I have no idea what happens from here, but I look forward to a Supreme Court with either a Justice Merrick Garland or a President Clinton-named Justice getting the case again in the future. TPM, Dahlia Lithwick, Rewire, and Daily Kos have more.

Once more with SCOTUS and birth control

Here we go.

In another major case concerning Texas women’s reproductive care, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider if the right to religious freedom is broad enough to completely exempt nonprofits with religious objections to birth control from providing women access to it through their insurance plans.

The case, formally known as Zubik v. Burwell, pits religious nonprofit groups — including East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University — against the federal government over a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring some employers to provide contraceptive coverage to female workers.

The Texas case is among seven related lawsuits the high court agreed to hear together in which religious nonprofits argue the mandate infringes on their religious freedom. The Obama administration says the groups are offered a way around the requirement through a mechanism that still gives women access to free contraception.

Under the federal health care act, employers with 50 or more full-time employees are required to offer health plans with “minimum essential coverage,” including access to federally approved contraception for women, without co-payments or deductibles.

Religious nonprofits can seek “accommodations” to be exempted from the contraceptive mandate by submitting a form or notification certifying the organization’s objection on religious grounds. Doing so transfers the administrative duties of providing contraception coverage from the employer to the insurance company or a third party, which takes over handling the claims.

But the nonprofits argue they should be exempted from the requirement altogether because they are still “being forced to facilitate access” to contraceptives they oppose. In this case, the religious groups object to emergency contraceptives, including the so-called morning-after-pill, and intrauterine devices, which they liken to so-called “abortifacients” — or drugs that induce an abortion. (Health experts and scientists have disputed that claim.)

That parenthetical statement really understates the matter. People are free to believe what they want, but when those beliefs are contradicted by objective reality, I’m not sure why the law needs to accommodate them. Too bad I’m not on the Supreme Court.

Anyway. I’ve been following the HBU/East Texas Baptist lawsuit from the beginning – see here, here, and here for the basics, and remember that the full Fifth Circuit – yes, that Fifth Circuit – refused to uphold the initial lower court ruling in HBU’s favor.

Given the current composition of the Court, the fact that nearly every appeals court rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments, and the way things went with the HB2 case, there was a fair amount of optimism going into this one that the good guys would prevail. Unfortunately, it looks like perhaps the Bad Anthony Kennedy showed up for oral arguments.

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the last major case brought by religious objectors to birth control, the Court’s five justice conservative majority effectively wrote the “substantially burden” requirement out of the law. As Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the Court in that case, the Hobby Lobby plaintiffs “sincerely believe that providing the insurance coverage demanded by the HHS regulations lies on the forbidden side of the line, and it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.”

It quickly becomes clear during the Zubik argument, however, that the Court’s four justice liberal bloc wants to put the words “substantially burden” back into the law. Justice Sonia Sotomayor notes that, under the conservatives’ truncated reading of RFRA, it is unlikely that a plaintiff would ever fail to show a substantial burden because “we’re not asking you to do anything except identify yourself.” Justice Stephen Breyer even goes so far as to wax philosophic about how much easier life was in the few years before RFRA was enacted.

Kennedy, however, wants no part of this project to make “substantially burden” mean something again. “It seems to me that there is a substantial burden” in this case, Kennedy tells Solicitor General Don Verrilli in an uncharacteristically candid moment. About a minute later, Kennedy is even more candid, disclosing that he believes that this entire case comes down to whether the government could have used a less restrictive alternative (the third prong of RFRA) to provide birth control to women whose employers object to birth control.

For most of Verrilli’s time at the podium, however, Kennedy is sphinx-like, saying little and revealing little about whether he believes the government has made its case. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Alito spend this period taking shots at Verrilli. At a major argument over abortion earlier this month, the Court’s conservative wing appeared stilted and unsure how to seize the offensive with Scalia absent from the bench. Today, with Scalia’s seat literally absent from the Courtroom and just eight chairs facing the audience and the attorneys, it was clear that Roberts and Alito had their mojo back.

In their briefs, the religious objectors argue that requiring them to fill out a form in order to receive a contraceptive plan is not the “least restrictive means” of ensuring access to birth control. The government could have created a new birth control entitlement program funded by taxpayers (an alternative that Kennedy briefly appears skeptical of), or they could have offered birth control-only plans in the Affordable Care Act’s health care exchanges to women whose employers refuse to provide them with contraceptive coverage.

Alito focuses on the later of these two opinions, in a series of questions for Verrilli that can fairly be described as combative and nasty. At one point, Alito demands to know how the government can claim that Obamacare’s exchanges are “so unworkable” that they cannot provide an alternative for women that need birth control-only plans. It’s the sort of remark that seems more at home on Fox News than in the Supreme Court of the United States, and its delivered in a tone that seems to betray Alito’s bitterness over the fact that he has twice tried and failed to gut Obamacare by judicial decree.

In response, Verrilli argues that offering birth control-only coverage in the exchanges would not be a workable solution. For one thing, it’s not currently legal to sell such single-subject plans in the exchanges. For another, it’s far from clear that any private insurer would agree to offer such a plan. And even if they did, there’s no guarantee that a woman would be able to buy a plan that included the same doctors she relies upon for other medical care. This could lead to a world where a woman’s regular physician would be unable to prescribe contraception or even counsel the woman on many issues related to her reproductive health. And it would add an additional layer of complication that would discourage many women from seeking out contraceptive care.

Roberts, meanwhile, embraces the religious objectors’ argument that the government is “hijacking employers’” health plans via its fill-out-the-form regulation. This proves to be a very effective argument for Roberts, largely because it appears to sway Kennedy near the end of Verrilli’s time at the podium. In response to Verrilli’s attempt to explain some of the details of how the fill-out-the-form rules operate, Kennedy snaps back “that’s why it’s necessary to hijack the plans!”

In contentious cases, Kennedy often appears to play the role of Hamlet, asking questions of both sides and giving off an air of uncertainty about how he will ultimately vote. But when Kennedy shows real emotion in one of his questions, or when he adopts the loaded language of one of the parties, that’s normally a good sign that he’s made up his mind. When the votes are cast and the Court’s decision is released, it’s a good bet that Kennedy will vote against Team Birth Control.

Yeesh. The good news from our perspective in Texas is that a 4-4 split would leave the Fifth Circuit ruling against the plaintiffs in place. That’s a small consolation for anyone in a state governed by the Eighth Circuit, which was the one to buy into that dumb argument, of course. Perhaps some day we can get a ninth Justice confirmed and settle this once and for all. In the meantime, this may be the best we can do. Have I mentioned that this election is super important? A transcript of the oral arguments is here, while TPM, SCOTUSBlog, Kevin Drum, and the Trib have more.

HBU contraception lawsuit goes to SCOTUS

Here we go.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether religious nonprofits should be required to provide birth control benefits to female employees even if the employers object to certain contraceptives on religious grounds.

The court announced Friday that it would consider a case brought by East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University against the federal government over a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring some employers to provide contraceptive coverage. It is one of seven related cases from around the country that the high court agreed to hear at once.

The religious universities oppose emergency contraceptives, including the so-called morning-after pill, and intrauterine devices, which they liken to “abortifacients” — or drugs that induce an abortion. (Health experts and scientists have disputed that claim.)

[…]

Under federal religious freedom laws, religious nonprofits can seek “accommodations” to be exempted from the contraceptive mandate by submitting a form or notification certifying the organization’s objection to paying for contraception coverage on religious grounds. Doing so transfers the administrative obligations of providing contraception coverage from the employer to the insurance company or a third party, which takes over handling the claims.

But the universities argue that requirement infringes on their religious freedom because female employees may still be able to obtain contraception under that process.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. As the Chron notes, the Supremes actually took appeals from seven related contraception/insurance cases and combined them. They’ll hear oral arguments in March and render their decision in June as usual, just in time to capture people’s attention during the Presidential race. ThinkProgress, RH Reality Check, and SCOTUS Blog, which details all seven cases, have more.

Full Fifth circuit denies HBU in contraception lawsuit

Still no joy for them.

A federal appeals court will not reconsider its ruling, delivered in June, that the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive rules do not violate the religious freedom of church-based organizations in Texas.

The religious organizations, including two Catholic dioceses and the University of Dallas, had asked the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reject the ruling by a three-judge panel.

The court refused 11-4, issuing an opinion that did not discuss the merits of the case.

Three of the justices on the losing side, however, issued a scathing dissent that called the original ruling “ironic and tragic” for denying the free exercise of religion and placing “literally millions of dollars in fines and immortal souls on the line.”

“This should have been an easy case for upholding religious liberty,” said the dissent, issued Thursday and written by Justice Edith Jones and joined by Justices Edith Brown Clement and Priscilla Owen. The three are among the court’s most conservative members.

See here, here, and here for the background. It would be far more accurate to say that those three are among the most ideologically driven judges, not just on that court but any federal court, though I suppose it’s not polite to say things like that. As of August, when Ken Paxton found time in his busy schedule to file an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs, there wasn’t a circuit split in cases like this, but now there is and there’s been an even more radical anti-contraception ruling in another federal court, so the likelihood of SCOTUS hearing some case related to this, whether it’s HBU’s or one of the others out there, seems pretty high. And after Obergfell, one can only imagine the caterwauling and chest-thumping vows of defiance that will ensue if the plaintiffs lose there as well. The Press has more.

Paxton files amicus brief in HBU contraception lawsuit

Of course he does.

Female employees of religious nonprofits should not be given insurance coverage for birth control if their employers object to certain contraceptives on religious grounds, according to a brief filed at the U.S. Supreme Court by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Paxton’s “friend of the court” brief was filed Monday in support of a lawsuit brought by East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University against the federal government over a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring some employers to offer health plans that include contraceptive coverage.

The religious universities oppose emergency contraceptives, including the so-called morning-after pill, and intrauterine devices, which they liken to abortifacients. (Health experts and scientists have disputed that claim.)

[…]

In the brief filed by Paxton’s office, state attorneys wrote that the “supposed ‘accommodation’” will still “coerce employers to proceed with a course of action despite a belief in its religious impermissibility.”

“Many employers around the country feel driven by their faith to care for their employees by providing them health insurance,” the brief reads. “But some employers find it incompatible with their religious convictions to provide that health insurance when it means contracting with a company that then, by virtue of that very relationship, becomes obligated to pay for drugs regarded as abortifacients.”

A federal district court previously sided with the universities, blocking the requirement from going into effect. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services appealed the case to the New Orleans-based U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — considered the most conservative appellate court in the country — which reversed that decision, saying the universities had “not shown and are not likely to show that the requirement substantially burdens their religious exercise under established law.”

In its ruling, the panel of the appellate court sided with the federal government in its argument that the universities’ religious exemption from providing contraception coverage did not extend to third parties left to administer insurance plans if a religious organization is exempted.

See here, here, and here for the background. While HBU and ETBU won in district court, no plaintiffs have prevailed at the appellate level yet. As such, there isn’t a district split yet for SCOTUS, though as we saw with the Obamacare subsidies case they don’t need to have one to take up an appeal. I’ll be surprised if it’s not on their docket by next year.

HBU appeals contraceptive case to SCOTUS

Here we go.

Houston Baptist University on Wednesday turned to the U.S. Supreme Court in its battle to avoid providing employees with forms of contraception it finds morally objectionable.

The appeal of a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling was filed on behalf of the Houston university, East Texas Baptist University and the Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania by lawyers with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The Press fills in some important details.

HBU’s is just one of many cases challenging the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate. Under the law, religious employers who object to some or all forms of birth control (HBU, for example, takes issue with some emergency contraception that it wrongly likens to abortion) can seek an exemption from the feds. Typically this just means filling out a form letting the feds know of your objection to birth control and naming the company that administers your employee health plan. The government then works separately with the insurance company to make sure workers can get birth control coverage on another health plan if they want it.

East Texas Baptist University and Westminster Theological Seminary joined HBU in challenging the mandate. The schools have argued that by simply informing the feds of their objection – either by filling out a form or by some other means – they’re triggering or facilitating birth control coverage in violation of their religious beliefs. In their challenge, they’ve cited the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which says the federal government can’t, except in limited circumstances, “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.”

That the Fifth Circuit didn’t buy that argument is notable for a couple of reasons. First, every single federal appeals court that’s so far considered the issue has ruled that religious nonprofits can’t block their workers from getting coverage for birth control. Secondly, the Fifth Circuit, as we’ve written before, is perhaps the most conservative federal appeals court in the country. If anyone was going to buck the trend in favor of religious institutions, you’d have thought it would be the Fifth.

See here and here for some background. Basically, this is about employers attempting to control how their employees are spending their money, based on their belief in a demonstrable falsehood than none of them even gave a thought about as recently as a couple of years ago. But hey, religious freedom! Obamacare oppression! We’ll move to Irion County if we have to! You get the idea.

HBU contraceptive coverage decision overturned

Good.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has turned back a challenge brought by several Texas religious organizations that oppose offering insurance contraceptive coverage to their employees, concluding that the plaintiffs have no right to challenge the conduct of third parties.

The recent decision also found that U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2014 Hobby Lobby decision was of “no help” to the plaintiffs, which included East Texas Baptist University and the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, among others. That 5-4 high court decision held that corporations opposed to offering contraceptive coverage to their employees are exempt under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA].

[…]

In his decision, Judge Jerry Smith wrote that the Fifth Circuit was joining several other circuit courts in finding that the ACA’s contraception coverage mandate doesn’t present a substantial burden to the plaintiffs’ religious freedom.

“Although the plaintiffs have identified several acts that offend their religious beliefs, the acts they are required to perform do not include providing access to contraceptives. Instead, the acts that violate their faith are those of third parties,” Smith wrote, reversing the trial court decisions in the cases.

“Because RFRA confers no right to challenge the independent conduct of third parties, we join our sister circuits in concluding that the plaintiffs have not shown a substantial burden on their religious exercise,” Smith wrote.

While the plaintiffs complain that sending in a notion of opposition will authorize or trigger payments for contraceptives, that is “not so,” wrote Smith, who explained that “the ACA already requires contraceptive coverage.”

Smith also noted that the Hobby Lobby decision mentions that certain religious organizations have already been “effectively exempted” through the ACA’s accommodation.

“Thus, Hobby Lobby is of no help to the plaintiffs’ position, and the requirement to offer a group health plan does not burden their religious exercise,” Smith wrote.

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the opinion. As Think Progress reminds us, Judge Smith is a very conservative Reagan appointee who is a reliable vote against abortion rights, so it’s not a case of getting lucky with the three-judge panel. The full circuit may be asked to review this, and it will certainly go to SCOTUS, though as RH Reality Check notes, every appeals court so far has sided with the feds on this. So there’s some hope that the dreadful Hobby Lobby decision will not expand any farther in scope. Hair Balls has more.

HBU wins contraception mandate lawsuit

This is very disappointing.

The federal government cannot force Houston Baptist University to pay for emergency contraception services as part of its employee health insurance plans, according to a ruling Friday by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal.

The decision is a victory for HBU and East Texas Baptist University in their joint lawsuit against the government over the constitutionality of Affordable Care Act provisions about employer-paid birth control.

“The government doesn’t have the right to decide what religious beliefs are legitimate and which ones aren’t,” said Eric Rassbach, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm representing the two Texas colleges.

The universities said that obeying the Health and Human Services contraception mandate would violate their religious conscience. In a 46-page opinion, Rosenthal said they proved their positions.

“The belief need not be long-standing, central to (their) religious beliefs, internally consistent with any written scripture or reasonable from another’s perspective. They need only be sincerely held,” Rosenthal wrote.

The Obama administration exempted churches from the mandate, but not affiliated organizations like religious schools and hospitals.

The Obama administration is likely to appeal this ruling, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope. In the meantime, there’s a bigger case working its way towards the Supreme Court, involving secular companies such as Hobby Lobby, which want to establish the principle that corporations can have religious rights. If they win, then the employees of these institutions, who may not share the religious views of the owners of said corporations themselves or who may not even be religious, will have their health insurance options dictated to them.

You may be thinking to yourself “Wait, I thought it was the Catholics that opposed birth control. What’s up with Baptists opposing it?” You would not be the only one wondering about this.

I’m proud to be a part of a movement whose great concern is learning to love your neighbor as you love yourself. And as we move into the New Year, I hope those voices of justice will grow stronger and I wish for some other things as well.

I hope that the Religious Right will drop birth control as an issue. During the political season, the conservative Evangelical case against birth control was loud and clear. I spoke to Frank Schaeffer, one of the founders of the Religious Right, trying to remember my days growing up in a conservative Evangelical household. “I don’t remember birth control ever being an issue before. It wasn’t tied to the Evangelical pro-life movement, was it? Did I miss something?” I asked.

“No. Birth control wasn’t an issue at the beginning.” Schaeffer replied. “This is a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

In other words, the Religious Right took up the cause of birth control because the Roman Catholic Church is against birth control. Since the Religious Right Evangelicals and some Catholics could join forces and become more powerful in their shared quest to defeat Barack Obama, then they decided to add birth control as an issue. We began to hear the pill referred to more as an “abortifacient.”

I am now a Progressive Presbyterian, but growing up as a teen in a conservative Christian culture, I read Passion and Purity. I was advised to take the pill for medical reasons and refused because I thought it would make sex more tempting. I also thought that using a condom would be like premeditated sin, because you would have to have to buy them beforehand and plan on having sex. But there was no sense that birth control was somehow tied to abortion.

I’m hoping that since the Evangelical tie of birth control to the pro-life movement was a pragmatic political flop, it won’t affect conservative women who want to decide when they are ready to have a child. There is already a teen pregnancy problem in red states. We don’t need to exacerbate the issue, jeopardizing the lives and futures of young women by demonizing birth control.

I guess it’s a good thing for HBU and ETBU that their “belief” need not be “long-standing, central to (their) religious beliefs, internally consistent with any written scripture or reasonable from another’s perspective”, because as recently as last decade, this wasn’t part of their beliefs. In fact, one of their peer institutions that also sued the federal government over this mandate was providing emergency contraception coverage as part of its health insurance plan at the same time it was asking for injunctive relief against being required to provide emergency contraception coverage. Don’t make me do something I’m already doing, Your Honor!

The key to understanding all this is in the quoted bit above. Take a look at the reason the lawsuit was filed in the first place.

Dub Oliver, president of East Texas Baptist University, told KLTV 7 that he opposes the provision because he believes that “life begins at conception” and that contraception drugs cause abortions.

But the statement that “contraception drugs cause abortions” is not a matter of faith, it’s a matter of testable, provable fact. And the facts as we now know them show that this belief is mistaken.

Several scientists and doctors said in interviews that this view did not reflect the way the birth control methods actually work. “There’s so much evidence for how these things work prior to fertilization,” said Diana L. Blithe, director of contraceptive development for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “And there’s no evidence that they work beyond fertilization.”

She and other experts said these methods are so effective in preventing fertilization that the chance of an egg and sperm uniting is slim. If fertilization does occur, the embryo runs a high risk of not implanting for natural reasons. While several medical Web sites, including some from government agencies, raise the possibility that the morning-after pill could affect implantation, Dr. Blithe and others said it had not been scientifically verified that the drugs work that way.

One morning-after pill, Plan B, contains a synthetic progesterone that blocks ovulation, said Dr. Anita Nelson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Recent studies have indicated that women who take Plan B after ovulation have a normal chance of becoming pregnant, and that Plan B does not prevent their fertilized eggs from implanting, Dr. Nelson said. Ella, the other morning-after pill, delays ovulation by blocking the body’s progesterone, she said.

She said that Ella was a hormonal cousin of the drug used in an acknowledged abortifacient, RU-486, which is given to women who are up to about seven weeks pregnant and stops the development of an already-implanted embryo. But the RU-486 hormone is a very high dose, between 200 to 600 milligrams, whereas the Ella hormone is 30 milligrams, Dr. Nelson said. She said that Ella had not been tested to see if it prevented implantation. But she added that the RU-486 hormone at low doses acts only to prevent ovulation.

See also this NPR story on the same subject. The evidence at hand was sufficient to convince Catholic bishops in Germany that emergency contraception was acceptable, at least in some cases. But that’s what this is about, conflating birth control with abortion, and teaming up with the Catholic Chuch – the “enemy of my enemy” – against the Obama Administration by conflating birth control with abortion. That says to me that this is much more about politics than it is about faith. To the extent that faith is involved, it’s a matter of convenience. I don’t think that’s worth trumping the rights of the employees of these institutions, and I’m disappointed that Judge Rosenthal bought into it. BOR has more.

HBU and UIW make the leap to Division I

I wish them luck.

One of Dr. Louis Agnese’s earliest recollections of the University of Incarnate Word’s athletic program was quite memorable — and not in a good way.

In 1985, his first year as president of the school, Agnese said he went to watch a basketball game at the university’s Wellness Center. The game was canceled.

“It was stopped because of rain,” Agnese said, referring to water being on the basketball court.

Nearly three decades later, the school’s athletic program has a much brighter appeal.

UIW officially joined NCAA Division I and the Southland Conference on Monday, celebrating the occasion with a campus ceremony that included coaches, athletes, cheerleaders, alumni and fans.

The Cardinals were one of four schools making the move to the conference, joining Abilene Christian, Houston Baptist and the University of New Orleans to make up a 10-team league.

“We think this is a great partnership for the future of the Southland Conference,” SLC commissioner Tom Burnett said. “There are great days ahead for this university. We are as excited as can be.”

I had previously noted UIW’s interest in making the leap to Division I here and here, with Abiliene Christian (formerly College, now University) being mentioned in the latter link. HBU began its move at about the same time. Here’s the Chron story on their first day in the SLC.

Houston Baptist athletic director Steve Moniacci has been attending Southland Conference meetings for a year and a half.

At his next one, he’ll finally get to vote.

HBU officially became a member of the Southland Conference on Monday for all sports except men’s soccer. It makes the move from the Great West Conference.

[…]

Moniacci said the biggest advantage of the move is that HBU will play regional league competition.

“We will have fans visiting our campus from other schools who have never had a chance to visit our campus,” he said. “It also increases the ability of our fans to go to league games that they have not been able to go to in the past.”

Rather than get on a plane and fly 1,600 miles to New Jersey Institute of Technology or 1,400 miles to Utah Valley, the Huskies can load up a bus and drive 90 minutes to Sam Houston State in Huntsville or to Lamar in Beaumont.

Moniacci said the school will save six figures in travel costs. That was before it added a football team, which almost doubles those costs.

You don’t often hear about schools saving money by going this route. I don’t know if that will be true in the longer term, but for now at least I’m sure HBU will be happy to not travel to New Jersey and Utah. Like I said, I wish them well in their new conference home.

HBU wants a name change

Always a challenging task.

Half a century after being founded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas as “a Christian college of the highest order,” Houston Baptist University may soon erase the religious designation in its name.

Saying that the Baptist tag creates a barrier for potential students, university officials are exploring a name change for the 51-year-old school – a prospect that concerns some alumni who fear HBU’s religious identity would be de-emphasized.

Although an alternative name hasn’t been chosen, one possibility mentioned at an HBU town hall meeting last Thursday was “Morris Christian University,” after Stewart Morris, a founding father and major donor.

At the town hall meeting, one of two held last week, HBU board member Ray Cox Jr. argued that “the name Houston and the name Baptist are somewhat limiting to a national Christian university. … That’s why we are considering changing the name.”

I don’t know, “Morris Christian University” sounds limiting to me. It sounds like a school in a small town. Maybe that’s just me.

In recent years, the school’s profile has shifted significantly from its origins with an inaugural freshman class of 193 students. Only about one-third of HBU’s 2,500 students are Baptist.

Last year, the university voted to add three non-Baptists to the board of trustees, making HBU the first university affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas to allow non-Baptist trustees.

[…]

The HBU-commissioned survey of 1,129 current and prospective students and faculty showed that the current name wasn’t the best fit with the university’s vision of becoming “a comprehensive national Christian university,” Mark Denison, a board member and chairman of the name change committee, said at the town hall.

Denison said officials are also considering dropping Houston from the university’s name because the geographical term is limiting. He noted most of the students come from three surrounding counties.

The timing of the change coincides with the school’s transition to the Southland Conference and the addition of football in 2014, Denison said.

I suppose they could go the TCU route and decide that the acronym is the name. As we know from the UH-Downtown experience, it’s not easy finding a new name that enough people like, or at least don’t dislike. The committee will present its findings in May, so we’ll see what they come up with. Greg has more.

Division I wannabes are popping up all over

And they’re all interested in the same conference.

The Southland Conference likely holds the key to Incarnate Word’s dreams of moving its athletic program into NCAA Division I.

[…]

UIW students participating in a survey would support by nearly a 2-1 margin the school’s planned transition to Division I, according to results published Wednesday afternoon.

But according to the Student Government Association survey, a majority of students would not support proposed fee increases to fund the move.

The survey said 63 percent supported the push for Division I status, but 56 percent did not support a fee increase of $100 per semester.

A university official said there were 401 respondents, approximately 10 percent of the full-time undergraduate student body.

Other schools in the Division II Lone Star Conference contemplating the move up to Division I include Abilene Christian and Angelo State, SLC commissioner Tom Burnett said Wednesday.

“We’ve heard from those folks and a few others,” he said. “It’s an interesting time with the interest in Division I from some longstanding Division II members.”

We heard about UIW a couple of months ago. HBU has already taken the plunge. UTSA started out in the SLC before moving up to the WAC. I wonder at what point it will cease to make sense to be a Div II program in Texas because there aren’t enough nearby peer institutions to schedule. Which is good for the SLC, and presumably for the conferences that pick up the schools that feel like they’re getting too big for it.

HBU adds football, joins Southland Conference

Add another Division I football program to the city.

The holidays came early for Houston Baptist University and the Southland Conference as both crossed an item off their wish lists.

HBU joined a conference offering nearby members and a home for all its sports except men’s soccer, and the Southland added its first Houston member and an institution that will soon bring another football team to the league.

The Southland officially extended an invitation, effective July 1, 2013, to HBU on Monday.

The Huskies will begin a football program that will play in the Southland in 2014 and could compete as soon as 2013.

HBU’s Board of Trustees gave its approval to pursue football in June. Landing in the SLC, which is a much better geographic fit for HBU and which enables them to qualify for the SLC’s automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament, is a pretty good coup for them. It’s unclear where they’ll play as yet – Dynamo Stadium was mentioned as a possibility in the print version of this story, though oddly not in the online version – but in the end I suspect they’ll build their own facility. I wish them luck as they get their program off the ground.

HBU to start playing football

Assuming they can find someone to play with, that is.

The [Houston Baptist University] board of trustees, after conducting a financial feasibility study this year, gave its approval to add football pending alignment with a conference in Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).

“Our board’s approval is contingent, but we are ready to go when we get an invitation from a conference,” [school president Robert B. Sloan Jr.] said.

[…]

Sloan said HBU has reached out to several conferences, among them the Southland Conference and Summit League, to express the school’s willingness to add football if invited to join the leagues.

“The idea is to get in a conference that we feel like has some regional connection, some natural rivalries that we can develop,” Sloan said.

The SLC would offer the best regional alignment for HBU, with neighboring football-playing members Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Lamar, along with four Louisiana schools and Central Arkansas.

The SLC will lose Texas State and Texas-San Antonio to the Western Athletic Conference in 2012.

But at the league’s spring meetings May 25, SLC presidents did not consider adding any new members — the league will stand at 10 after Texas State and UTSA depart following next season — in the near future.

“While interested in continuing to survey the national and regional landscape for future possibilities, the board did not consider membership expansion,” SLC commissioner Tom Burnett said in a statement. “The Southland has confirmed plans to be an organization of 10 member universities beginning next summer.

“President Sloan and other HBU officials have graciously shared their future athletics plan with us, including the possibility of football sponsorship, and we certainly wish them well in the university’s successful return to Division I.”

The Summit League doesn’t currently include football, but four of its member schools play it, in different conferences. I presume they’d want to add at least a sixth football-playing team before they took on the sport. HBU wouldn’t start playing until two years after getting a conference invitation, so don’t go inquiring about season tickets just yet.

I understand the allure of football for a school, but I have to wonder if HBU is thinking about this clearly.

[Sloan] said the school has the available land on campus to accommodate practice fields, locker rooms and other training facilities.

Sloan said the building of an on-campus stadium is a future option, but the school will seek to lease a current stadium for home games.

Based on the financial feasibility study for playing in FCS, Sloan said HBU has determined it could break even after the third year of the program.

Really? Because last I checked, football was considered a sucker’s game. That article is almost a decade old now, so perhaps things have changed. I’d still love to know what assumptions went into that study. Regardless, I wish HBU the best of luck in getting their program off the ground. Maybe some day I’ll see their squad pay Rice Stadium a visit.