Federal judge in Nebraska dismisses lawsuit against HHS mandate

LINCOLN, NEB. — A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services' mandated contraceptive coverage under the new health reform law July 17, saying it was "based on layers of conjecture."

U.S. District Court Judge Warren K. Urbom ruled that the seven states and various other individuals and groups that filed suit in February against the mandate had failed to show that their health insurance plans would not be grandfathered -- and therefore not exempt from the requirement.

Joining the attorneys general of Nebraska, South Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma in the lawsuit were a Catholic nun, a lay missionary working with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, Pius X Catholic High School in Lincoln, Neb., and the Omaha-based Catholic Mutual Group, a self-insurance fund that covers more than 125 dioceses or archdioceses and 200 Catholic religious congregations in the U.S. and Canada.

Spokesmen for several of the attorneys general said they were considering whether to appeal Urbom's ruling.

The dismissal does not affect more than a dozen lawsuits brought in May by 43 dioceses and Catholic organizations nor another 10 suits brought by various Catholic and Protestant colleges, organizations or employers.

The diocesan lawsuits have continued to add plaintiffs since their filing, with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago joining July 9 with the dioceses of Joliet and Springfield, Ill., and their Catholic Charities agencies and Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts college in Illinois, signing on July 18 to a lawsuit that includes the Archdiocese of Washington and The Catholic University of America.

Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said at a July 18 teleconference that the Urbom ruling had "no application" to the remaining lawsuits because they can easily demonstrate that the HHS mandate will impact them immediately.

Philip Graham Ryken, president of Wheaton College, said the first freshmen will be arriving at the school by early August and the college has to know whether it will be able to offer health insurance that complies with its moral and religious beliefs to faculty, staff and students.

Ryken said evangelicals do not oppose contraception on religious grounds but are opposed to those that can induce abortions, such as Plan B and ella, which are included on the Food and Drug Administration's approved list of contraceptives.

Also speaking at the teleconference was John H. Garvey, president of Catholic University, who said in response to a question that the lawsuits have not been brought for political reasons, as some have charged.

"The timing of the lawsuit is not something we have chosen," he said. "HHS has chosen to put these rules into effect now and we are up against our own deadlines" for negotiating health insurance contracts.

"We believe this is not a partisan issue," Garvey added. "Religious freedom is an issue we had hoped that both Republicans and Democrats would be attentive to and one that both parties have been guilty of ignoring from time to time."

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