By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
This week, a federal judge threw out a challenge by a small coalition of states, including Florida, contesting a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring insurers to cover contraception as preventative care.
Florida officials, as well as religious leaders, claimed the requirement was a violation of religious freedom.
Religious employers, according to the law, are exempt from the mandate. Furthermore, President Barack Obama even made a small accommodation for religious medical institutions, such as hospitals, that receive public funds.
Obama’s compromise would no longer force religiously affiliated hospitals to offer birth control to their employees, but they would have to make sure that it was covered free of charge in their insurance.
That was not enough for parts of the religious community, though.
Hours after calling the Obama administration’s contraceptives compromise a “first step,” the Catholic bishops said Friday night they have “two serious objections” to the new policy and will fight its enactment.
First, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the administration’s plan still includes a “nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients.”
“This is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern,” the bishops said in their statement. “We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty.
And while President Barack Obama’s new plan allows religious-affiliated employers to refrain from paying for contraceptive coverage — insurers would be obligated to provide the coverage for free — the bishops said the change doesn’t go far enough.
“It would still mandate that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write,” the bishops said. “At this point, it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, and religious insurance companies, are not exempt from this mandate.”
There was also speculation that even though the main challenge to the Affordable Care Act was struck down, this particular suit could still have an impact.
The Associated Press reported that “some legal experts said that even though the nation’s highest court largely upheld the law, the lawsuit is narrowing in on a separate issue and has a decent chance.”
Adam Samaha, a constitutional law professor at New York University’s School of Law, said other recent Supreme Court rulings suggest the court has “some sympathies with religious organizations being burdened by government.” He cited a unanimous decision earlier this year in which justices sided with a religious school in an employment discrimination lawsuit.
But he also noted that President Barack Obama’s administration, in response to the criticism from religious groups, delayed enforcement of the provision until next summer and has said it would shift the requirement from employers to health insurers. Samaha said that shift bolsters the administration’s position in the legal challenge.
“Everybody agrees that this is far from a frivolous suit,” added Samaha’s colleague, NYU law professor Richard Epstein. “Intellectually, it’s a very powerful suit.”
On Thursday, however, a U.S. District Court judge threw out the challenge.
The News Service of Florida reported (via The Miami Herald):
A federal judge Tuesday tossed out a challenge by Florida and six other states to part of the federal health overhaul that requires coverage for contraceptives in insurance plans. The lawsuit, filed in Nebraska, centered on religious organizations’ objections to the requirement in the Affordable Care Act.
The states contended, at least in part, that Medicaid enrollment would grow if the coverage requirement leads organizations to stop providing insurance to their employees. But Senior U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom found that the states didn’t have legal standing to sue, saying their theory “is based on layers of conjecture.”
Urbom wrote that the state’s complaint “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 not otherwise seek, which will then strain the state’s budgets. This is not sufficient to establish standing.”
This was one of the other legal challenges from the state of Florida against Obama’s 2010 health care reform law. Like the one that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, this challenged resulted in a loss for the Florida officials.