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Catholic Church Birth-Control Suit Thrown Out by Judge

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Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- A Catholic Church challenge to the birth-control mandate in the Obama administration’s health-care overhaul was thrown out by a federal judge who said it’s too early to hear the lawsuit.

Regulations governing the provision of birth control in the law are likely to be supplanted by new rules, making it premature to decide the case now, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington decided today in a case filed by the Archdiocese of Washington and four other Catholic nonprofit groups.

“If after the new regulations are issued, plaintiffs are still not satisfied, any challenges that they choose to bring will be substantially different from the challenges in the current complaint,” Jackson wrote.

The Affordable Care Act requires that employer-supplied health-care plans cover contraception. The archdiocese and 42 other Catholic organizations, including the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America, filed lawsuits last year arguing that the mandate violates freedom of religion guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Chieko Noguchi, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, didn’t immediately respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment on the ruling.

Religious Concerns

The Obama administration has attempted to satisfy the concerns of religious-affiliated groups by requiring insurers to pay for the contraceptive component of employee coverage.

On Jan. 15, the U.S. said it will appeal a temporary court order won by a Bible publisher, Tyndale House Publishers Inc., of Carol Stream, Illinois, blocking the contraceptive coverage requirement.

In September, the government asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver to reverse a similar ruling involving a Catholic-owned heating and air conditioning equipment company.

In today’s ruling, Jackson said the plaintiffs are protected by a temporary safe-harbor clause in the current coverage requirement.

Jackson cited a government brief “that the defendants will finalize amendments to the regulations in an effort to accommodate religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage before the rolling expiration of the safe harbor begins in August 2013.”

The case is Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Sebelius, 12-cv-0815, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Zajac in Washington at azajac@bloomberg.net

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

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