Federal judge dismisses challenge to health care contraception provision

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Nebraska [official website] on Tuesday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit filed by seven state attorneys general challenging new health care mandates in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) [text; JURIST backgrounder] that require contraception to be covered under all employer health care plans, including those of religious institutions. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning [official website] filed the lawsuit [JURIST report] in February, joined by attorneys general from six other states, arguing that the provision violates their First Amendment rights. Judge Warren Urbom found that plaintiffs lacked standing and that their claims were not ripe for review:

In summary, although the Rule that lies at the heart of the plaintiffs' complaint establishes a definitive, final definition of "religious employer," the ACA's contraceptive coverage requirements are not being enforced against non-exempted religious organizations, and the Rule is currently undergoing a process of amendment to accommodate these organizations. The plaintiffs face no direct and immediate harm, and one can only speculate whether the plaintiffs will ever feel any effects from the Rule when the temporary enforcement safe harbor terminates. This case clearly involves "contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all," ... and therefore it is not ripe for review.

None of the plaintiffs have established that they have standing to challenge the Rule, and even if I were to assume that they did have standing, their claims are not ripe.

A spokesperson for Bruning said last week that plaintiffs would continue their lawsuit [JURIST report] despite the US Supreme Court [official website] upholding the ACA [JURIST report] last month. It is unknown whether plaintiffs will appeal Tuesday's dismissal.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 [opinion, PDF] that ACA does not violate the constitution. The case centered on the "individual mandate" provision [text] of the act, which requires every person, with some exceptions for religious and other reasons, to purchase some form of health insurance by January 1, 2014, or be subject to a fee equal to either a percent of that individual's income or flat rate of $695. In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts held that individual mandate is not a requirement that Americans buy insurance, since individuals who choose to pay the flat-rate fee are in full compliance with the law. The court's decision resolved four consolidated cases accepted by the court [JURIST report] in November 2011. Following the court's decision in the case, reactions from lawmakers and parties of interest inundated press coverage [JURIST report]. US President Barack Obama, who has made the ACA a cornerstone of his administration, held a press conference praising the decision. Several of the losing parties, 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) [advocacy website], expressed their unhappiness with the decision. NFIB suggested [press release] that "Americans have lost the right to be left alone" and that they will continue to back the law's potential repeal in Congress. Indeed, several lawmakers vowed to repeal PPACA, including Speaker of the House John Boehner [press release].

 

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.