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Health Law Birth-Control Mandate Survives States’ Suit

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Health-Care Law’s Birth Control Mandate Survives States’ Lawsuit
Bayer Schering Pharma's Yasmin birth control pills are packaged in the company's factory in Berlin, Germany. Source: Bayer HealthCare AG via Bloomberg

July 18 (Bloomberg) -- Seven U.S. states lost their federal court bid to block a government mandate requiring religious organizations to offer their employees insurance coverage for birth control.

U.S. District Judge Warren K. Urbom in Lincoln, Nebraska, ruled yesterday that Catholic schools, organizations and individuals cited by the states lack standing to challenge the rule.

Even if they did, the judge said, the contraceptive requirements are “not being forced against non-exempted religious organizations, and the rule is currently undergoing a process of amendment to accommodate these organizations,” Urbom wrote. The states that sued “face no direct and immediate harm, and one can only speculate whether the plaintiffs will ever feel any effects from the rule,” he said.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning filed the complaint in February, claiming that the requirement violates free exercise of religion and freedom of speech rights. Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas joined the case.

‘Shell Game’

“Yesterday’s decision completely disregards the federal government’s continued shell game when it comes to this rule,” Bruning said today in an e-mailed statement. “Essentially, this decision asks millions of Americans to watch and wait for their religious liberties to be violated.”

He said he will consult with the other plaintiffs to determine their next move.

The mandate is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010 and the core of which was upheld in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month. The justices, voting 5-4, said Congress has the power to make Americans carry insurance or pay a penalty.

The seven states that sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over the birth-control mandate claimed the regulation would coerce religious organizations and social service agencies among other groups to “subsidize” different forms of contraception against their religious beliefs.

The case is Nebraska v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 12-cv-03035, U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska (Lincoln).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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