Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Contraceptive Coverage Mandate

A federal Judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by several states against the contraceptive coverage requirements issued by the Obama Administration earlier this year:

A federal judge has dismissed a federal lawsuit in which Nebraska and six other states tried to block part of the federal health care law that requires contraception coverage.

U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom of Lincoln dismissed the case Tuesday, saying the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the action challenging part of the Affordable Care Act.

“Today’s decision completely disregards the federal government’s continued shell game when it comes to this rule,” said Attorney General Jon Bruning. “Essentially, this decision asks millions of Americans to watch and wait for their religious liberties to be violated. Obviously, we’re disappointed with the ruling, and we will consult with our co-plaintiffs to assess our next steps.”

The attorneys general for Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas joined Bruning’s challenge of the contraception rule. All are Republican.

The ACA was one of the cornerstones of Democratic President Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the provisions of the law.

Plaintiffs also included three Nebraska-based groups — Catholic Social Services, Pius X High School and the Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America — along with a nun and a female missionary.

The lawsuit challenged a rule that requires contraception coverage in health care plans — including for employees of church-affiliated hospitals, schools and outreach programs. It argued that the rule violates the rights of employers that object to the use of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Urbom sided with the U.S. Justice Department, which argued that the plaintiffs did not show that they faced the immediate threat of having to offer the coverage, because the federal government delayed enforcement of the rule until August 2013. That so-called “safe harbor” provision is to allow accommodations to be worked out for some religious groups.

The Justice Department also said the states lacked the legal grounds to sue over the provision because they don’t enjoy First Amendment protections.

“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,” Urbom said.

“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,” Urbom said.

Since this really wasn’t a ruling on the merits of the Plaintiff’s claims it doesn’t necessarily resolve the issue. If Urbom’s ruling is upheld on appeal and followed by other Judges hearing similar cases, though, it would at the very least mean that no lawsuit could be filed against the contraceptive coverage mandate until after August 2013 at the earliest, which pushes it outside the election and makes it likely sometime in 2014 before a final legal ruling of some kind is issued by a Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.

FILED UNDER: Health Care, Law and the Courts, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. KariQ says:

    If Urbom’s ruling is upheld on appeal and followed by other Judges hearing similar cases, though, no lawsuit could be filed against the contraceptive coverage mandate until after August 2013 at the earliest, which pushes it outside the election and makes it likely sometime in 2014 before a final legal ruling of some kind is issued by a Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.

    By which time any number of things could have changed. If Republicans win the presidency and a majority in both houses, they may overturn the ACA entirely. Or they may pass a law that removes the contraception mandate. Or any one of a number of things. Given the possibilities for changes before the mandate comes into force, I think the judge probably made the right call on purely practical grounds.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    A federal judge has dismissed a federal lawsuit in which Nebraska and six other states tried to block part of the federal health care law that requires contraception coverage.

    “Today’s decision completely disregards the federal government’s continued shell game when it comes to this rule,” said Attorney General Jon Bruning. “Essentially, this decision asks millions of Americans to watch and wait for their religious liberties to be violated. Obviously, we’re disappointed with the ruling, and we will consult with our co-plaintiffs to assess our next steps.”

    The strategy is to try to kill ACA by stripping away provisions one-by-one – death by a thousand paper cuts. Also, anyone who doesn’t think that many Republican conservatives are trying to impose their religious beliefs on the wider public had better think again.

    Again, this election is all about handing the entire government over to Republicans and having those kind of people run the table. Are Americans ready to run off the cliff with the GOP? I hope not.