July 17 (Reuters) - A Nebraska federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by seven states against the Obama administration’s new healthcare policy that requires employers to provide birth-control coverage to employees.
U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom concluded that the plaintiffs did not face immediate harm and therefore could not sue to block the part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that requires employers to include free birth control in their healthcare programs.
The Nebraska attorney general filed the suit in February on behalf of six other states, two Catholic individuals and three Catholic non-profit institutions. The suit was one of around two dozen filed across the country by religious organizations accusing the federal government of forcing them to support contraception, sterilization and birth control in violation of their religious beliefs or face steep fines.
The states - which include Texas, Ohio, Florida, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Michigan - argued that the law threatened their budgets by giving religious employers an incentive to stop providing health insurance coverage to their employees to avoid the requirements of the rule. That would drive up enrollment in the states’ Medicaid programs, they contended.
But the judge concluded that the alleged harms were too remote and hypothetical.
The federal government has carved out an exemption for religious employers, announcing that insurance companies would cover the cost of birth control for their coverage plans. In addition, the government has delayed enforcement of the rule until Aug. 1, 2013, while the Department of Health and Human Services figures out how the accommodation for religious employers will work.
Katherine Spohn, a lawyer for the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Michelle Bennett, a Justice Department lawyer for the federal defendants, was not immediately available for comment.
In May, the law firm Jones Day filed 12 suits in courts across the country on behalf of 43 different Catholic entities, including Notre Dame, Catholic University of America and the Archdiocese of New York.
The Nebraska case is the first to be dismissed by a federal judge, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. (Reporting by Terry Baynes in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)