Appeals court says it will hold Obama to his word on new birth-control mandate

A federal appeals court has chosen to hold a challenge to the Obama administration's birth control coverage mandate pending a new rule that will affect how religious organizations comply. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled late Tuesday to place the suit from Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College in abeyance.

The court also ordered the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to report back every 60 days as it prepares a new rule to allow leeway for religious organizations under the policy. 

"There will, the government said, be a different rule for entities like the appellants, and we take that as a binding commitment," the court wrote.

"We take the government at its word and will hold it to it."

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the two schools, called the order a victory for the more than 100 plaintiffs that have filed suit against the mandate.

"The D.C. Circuit has now made it clear that government promises and press conferences are not enough to protect religious freedom," said Kyle Duncan, general counsel to the group.

"The court is not going to let the government slide by on non-binding promises to fix the problem down the road," Duncan said.

Wheaton and Belmont Abbey — evangelical Christian and Catholic colleges, respectively — argue that complying with the birth control mandate violates their religious freedom.

The policy requires most employers to cover a range of birth control methods in their health plans without a co-pay.

Churches and houses of worship are exempt, and HHS has promised that employees of religiously affiliated schools and other groups will be able to obtain birth control directly from their insurance company.

The schools' challenges were initially separate but consolidated on appeal.