(CN) – A federal judge in Nebraska dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s rules on contraceptive coverage, saying the Catholic groups and seven states that sued the government based their alleged injuries on “layers of conjecture.”
“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,” Senior U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom wrote in his 45-page ruling on Tuesday.
The plaintiffs – three Catholic organizations, two people and attorneys general of Ohio, Texas, Nebraska, South Carolina, Michigan, Florida and Oklahoma – claimed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will “coerce” religious people and organizations to “directly subsidize contraception, abortifacients, sterilization and related services in contravention [of] their religious beliefs.”
They claimed this violates the First Amendment.
After the controversial health-care bill was signed into law in March 2010, the Obama administration issued regulations on coverage of preventive care, including contraceptive services. Based on the feedback it received, the government carved out an exemption for religious employers and agreed not to enforce the regulations until Aug. 1, 2013 for organizations that are not covered by the exemption but still object to the regulations on religious grounds.
The administration also exempted grandfathered health plans, in which people were enrolled on March 23, 2010, from the requirement to cover the recommended preventive services.
The states claimed that the regulations would strain their budgets if religious employers stop providing health insurance to avoid compromising their beliefs, because it would trigger an “immediate and substantial spike” in Medicaid enrollment, “as many impacted would invariably shift to Medicaid to remain in compliance with the ACA’s individual coverage mandate.”
To succeed with this claim, Judge Urbom said, the states needed to allege facts showing that people actually will flock to Medicaid.
“The complaint does not allege such facts; it merely offers guesses about how independent actors will respond to the rule and speculation that these responses could cause people to qualify for, and obtain, state benefits that they would otherwise not seek, which will then strain the states’ budgets,” Urbom wrote. “This is not sufficient to establish standing.”
He said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment “protect individual rights, not states’ rights.”
Urbom similarly ruled against the Catholic organizations and individuals, saying they failed to prove that they or their employers will not be exempt from the regulations, despite their claim that they “are not eligible for the … narrow religious employer exemption to the rule.”
Urbom concluded that their claims were based on speculation, not fact, and dismissed for lack of standing.
“These baseless lawsuits were never about religious liberty,” said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel for the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This was part of a long series of attacks on birth control by those who want to roll back women’s rights.”
The nonstate plaintiffs were Pius X Catholic High School, Catholic Social Services, the Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America, Sister Mary Catherine and Stacy Molai. Defendants were the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury, and their secretaries.