In the first federal court ruling on the Obama Administration’s mandate for the provision of free contraceptive coverage as part of the preventive services package in the health care law, a judge in Nebraska has thrown out the challenge to the mandate pursued by six states.
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.
Denying standing until the mandate takes effect does not mean that standing could not be granted after implementation, in August 2013. But Judge Urbom also said that, because of the grandfathering rule, only new or significantly altered plans would fall under the regulations, meaning that the institutions involved could also not prove standing to sue in the normal course of events.
The controversial part of the contraceptive mandate is the work-around for religiously affiliated institutions. Religious organizations like churches are exempted from the mandate, but religious institutions like hospitals and universities, which in most cases have employees who do not share the same religious beliefs, cried foul that they would have to comply. A compromise was reached whereby the individual contracts with the insurance company for separate coverage, provided free of charge, for contraception. But the religious institutions still cried foul.
The major ones are not a party to this lawsuit. Their suits are ongoing and will get decided over the next year or so. But Urbom’s precedent, if followed by other district court judges, would push out a reckoning on this mandate from the courts until 2013 or potentially well beyond that. If they agree with Urbom that the contracting of the employee with the insurance provider, circumventing the religious institution entirely, means that “The plaintiffs face no direct and immediate harm, and one can only speculate whether the plaintiffs will ever feel any effects from the rule,” then they cannot possibly win the case.