July 17 (Reuters) - A Nebraska federal judge on Tuesday
dismissed a lawsuit brought by seven states against a government
regulation requiring employers to provide birth-control coverage
U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom concluded that the
plaintiffs did not face immediate harm and therefore could not
sue to block the part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that
requires employers to include free birth control in their
The Nebraska Attorney General filed the suit in February on
behalf of six other states, two Catholic individuals and three
Catholic non-profit institutions. The suit was one of around two
dozen filed across the country by religious organizations
accusing the federal government of forcing them to face steep
fines if they did not support contraception, sterilization and
birth control in violation of their religious beliefs.
The states, which include Texas, Ohio and Florida, argued
that the law threatened their budgets by giving religious
employers an incentive to stop providing health insurance
coverage to their employees to avoid the requirements of the
rule. That would drive up enrollment in the states' Medicaid
programs, they contended.
But the judge concluded that the alleged harms were too
remote and hypothetical. The federal government has carved out
an exemption for religious employers, announcing that insurance
companies would cover the cost of birth control for their
coverage plans. In addition, the government has delayed
enforcement of the rule until August 1, 2013, while the
Department of Health and Human Services figures out how the
accommodation for religious employers will work.
The judge also found that the states could not show any
direct injury from the contraception mandate.
"There are no allegations of direct injuries resulting from
the Rule; instead, the State plaintiffs only speculate that
third parties will respond to the Rule in such a way that the
States' budgets will ultimately be strained," Urbom wrote.
States are not entitled to religious protections under the First
Amendment or federal law, he added.
Katherine Spohn, a lawyer for the Nebraska Attorney
General's Office, did not immediately respond to a request for
Michelle Bennett, a Justice Department lawyer for the
federal defendants, was not immediately available for comment.
In May, the law firm Jones Day filed 12 suits in courts
across the country on behalf of 43 different Catholic entities,
including Notre Dame, Catholic University of America and the
Archdiocese of New York.
The Nebraska case is the first to be dismissed by a federal
judge, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The case is State of Nebraska et al v. U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services et al, U.S. District Court for the
District of Nebraska, No. 4:12-cv-3035.
For Nebraska et al: Katherine Spohn of the Nebraska Attorney
For the Catholic individuals and institutions: Rocky Weber
of the Crosby, Guenzel Law Firm; Donald Blankenau of the
Blankenau, Wilmoth Law Firm.
For the federal government: Michelle Bennett of the Justice
(Reporting By Terry Baynes)
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