A Nebraska federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit in which Republican attorneys general in seven states tried to block the Obamacare provision requiring contraceptive coverage in employer-provided insurance plans.
The seven state officials, along with three Nebraska-based Catholic institutions, filed their lawsuit on false grounds that the ACA’s contraceptive provision violates the Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty by forcing Catholics to pay for contraception against their beliefs. However, churches and other places of worship are already exempt, and the regulation also includes a work-around for Catholic-affiliated institutions who object to birth control so they can refer employees to an outside insurer for contraception coverage.
U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom ruled that the lawsuit is without merit, just as it appeared on the surface. Urbom pointed out that there is no evidence that religious groups are being forced to violate their conscience, especially since the provision will not go into effect until 2013:
URBOM: Although the rule that lies at the heart of the plaintiffs’ complaint establishes a definitive, final definition of ‘religious employer,’ the ACA’s contraceptive coverage requirements are not being enforced against non-exempted religious organizations, and the rule is currently undergoing a process of amendment to accommodate these organizations.
The plaintiffs face no direct and immediate harm, and one can only speculate whether the plaintiffs will ever feel any effects from the rule when the temporary enforcement safe harbor terminates. This case clearly involves ‘contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all’…and therefore it is not ripe for review. None of the plaintiffs have established that they have standing to challenge the rule, and even if I were to assume that they did have standing, their claims are not ripe.
Obama has defended his contraception regulation, pointing out that “it’s not fair” for Catholic institutions to deny their employees birth control when there is already a compromise in place to prevent Catholic institutions from having to pay for the coverage directly. In fact, many large Catholic institutions like Georgetown University provided contraception coverage even before the ACA required them to do so.
Furthermore, the birth control regulation remains popular among the American public. An overwhelming majority of Americans — including Catholics — support coverage for contraceptive services. This ruling is only the most recent example of the fact that the Catholic case against the contraception mandate is easily dismantled.
A second lawsuit against the ACA’s contraception mandate has been dismissed in court under the same line of reasoning. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg ruled against Belmont Abbey College’s lawsuit on Wednesday, saying the Catholic college did not have standing to bring the case to court because it could not demonstrate it had been harmed yet by the birth control regulation. The college’s lawyers say they will continue the fight.