LINCOLN — A federal judge on Tuesday tossed out Nebraska's challenge of federal rules requiring employer health insurance to cover contraceptives.
U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom dismissed the lawsuit, saying that none of the plaintiffs had standing to sue and that the suit was premature.
The case was filed in February by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and the attorneys general of six other states: Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.
The plaintiffs also included Catholic Social Services, Pius X High School of Lincoln, the Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America, a Catholic nun and a Catholic missionary working with a college outreach organization.
The Obama administration has required new health insurance plans to cover birth control and sterilization without co-pays as part of the federal health care overhaul.
The regulation exempts churches and similar religious organizations from paying for the coverage, if they have religious reasons for objecting.
But religious-affiliated groups such as universities and charities still would have to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives and sterilization.
The lawsuit alleged that the regulation violated the plaintiffs' First Amendment religious rights.
“This regulation forces millions of Americans to choose between following religious convictions and complying with federal law,” Bruning said at the time the suit was filed.
In his order, Urbom said the Catholic organizations and individuals lacked standing because they could not show that they would fall under the regulation.
The rule applies only to insurance plans that are new or undergo significant change.
He also noted that the administration had delayed application of the rule to religious-affiliated groups until Aug. 1, 2013.
The temporary reprieve was intended to allow time to reach a compromise. Under a proposal offered by the administration, health insurance companies, not the religious-affiliated employers, would have to pay for the coverage.
“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,” the court order said.
Urbom said the states could not show they would be harmed by the regulation, except in an indirect, speculative way. The states had argued that the regulation would cause religious-affiliated groups to drop their health insurance, thus forcing employees onto the Medicaid rolls and increasing costs to the state.
Bruning said Tuesday that he was disappointed with the ruling and would be talking with the other plaintiffs about next steps.
“Today's decision completely disregards the federal government's continued shell game when it comes to this rule,” he said. “Essentially, this decision asks millions of Americans to watch and wait for their religious liberties to be violated.”
A dozen other legal challenges to the regulation were filed by 43 Catholic schools, dioceses and other institutions in May. The suits are pending in federal courts around the country.
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