LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Seven states asked a federal judge Thursday to block an Obama administration mandate that requires birth control coverage for employees of religious-affiliated hospitals, schools and outreach programs.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of Nebraska, alleges that the new rule violates the First Amendment rights of groups that object to the use of contraceptives.

It marks the first legal challenge filed by states.

The rule, announced as part of the federal health care law, has come under fire from religious groups that object to the use of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. In response to the criticism, Obama administration officials have said they will shift the requirement from the employers to health insurers themselves.

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys general from Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. Three Nebraska-based groups — Catholic Social Services, Pius X Catholic High School and the Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America — are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, a Republican who is running for U.S. Senate, said the administration’s regulation “forces of millions of Americans to choose between following religious convictions and complying with federal law.

“We will not stand idly by while out constitutionally guaranteed liberties are discarded by an administration that has sworn to uphold them,” he said.

The lawsuit alleges that the rule will effectively force religious employers and organizations to drop health insurance coverage, which will raise enrollment in state Medicaid programs and increase patient numbers at state-subsidized hospitals and medical centers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is named as a defendant. A phone message left with the agency on Thursday wasn’t immediately returned.

The contentious issue has pushed social issues to the forefront in a presidential election year that has been dominated by the economy. Issues such as abortion, contraception and requirements of President Barack Obama’s health care law have the potential to galvanize the Republicans’ conservative base, which is critical to voter turnout in the presidential and congressional races.

The new policy has angered some religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, who say the requirement would force them to violate their stances against contraception. It has also drawn a sharp response from congressional Republicans.

Obama administration officials have said they don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedom, but want to give women access to important preventive care. Supporters of the rule, including the ACLU and women’s advocacy groups, say the measure is about female health.

Republican lawmakers in a handful of states have seized on the contentious issue, presenting bills that would allow insurance companies to ignore the federal rules. Measures in Idaho, Missouri and Arizona would expand the exemptions to secular insurers or businesses that object to covering contraception, abortion or sterilization.

Officials have said the Obama administration’s ruling was carefully considered, after reviewing more than 200,000 comments from interested parties and the public. The one-year extension, they said, responds to concerns raised by religious employers about making adjustments.

Administration officials stress that individual decisions about whether to use birth control, and what kind, remain in the hands of women and their doctors.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (3)
  1. stan chaz says:

    These “faith-based institutions” are businesses NOT churches….BIG businesses. Their varied employees should not be made to involuntarily kneel at the altar of religion… a flat-out violation of the First Amendment. The government is trying to protect the freedom of these employees, not to limit it! Seriously: The bottom line is that absolutely NO ONE is coming into our Churches or places of worship and telling believers what to believe…..or forcing them to use contraception. BUT If the Bishops (and other denominations) want to continue running businesses outside of their places of worship…businesses that employ millions of people of varying faiths -or no “faith” at all- THEN they must play by the same rules and rights that other workers live by and enjoy (especially if their businesses use our tax dollars, and skip paying taxes, in the process). If the Jehovah’s Witnesses church hires me, can they alter my health insurance to exclude blood transfusions? Even worse- what if they operated a hospital by their “rules”? This is not a “war on religion”. Never was. However, it IS a war BY some religions… on women and men who simply want to plan their families, to control their futures, to keep their jobs, and to have health insurance that allows them to do that.

    1. Hamam says:

      Obama’s fat cat language may be a refiectlon of his administration’s concern over Main Street America’s growing anger and unrest that’s being expressed in rallies, town meetings and streets across America. The increasing ferment of the public writ large is not reported just in specialized blogs but has lately been showing up even on national broadcast media, such as the PBS Newshour (which until Dec 4 was known as The Newshour with Jim Lehrer ). This kind of trouble could escalate into trouble with a capital-T for those who rule. Maybe the democracy part of the U.S. republic is kicking in more and more to put some balance on the powers of the plutocracy represented by the military-industrial-corporate complex. Although the phrase is getting worn, it’s nevertheless worth repeating with a parenthetical modifier that we live in (very) interesting times.

  2. Isabel says:

    Nan G nothing new. And cltrainey not partisan, but Congressional CYA predictable action. They did the same But then also under a GOP majority.And I’m quite sure that it goes back prior to that, tho no particular years comes to mind. Point? It’s a predictable Congressional move whenever gas prices rise. Yet has anyone seen any oil producer or refinery charged with wrongdoing? Of course not.It comes down to this it’s us the peon constituency, vs them elected officials, the latter who like to pretend play they are doing something when, in fact, they are not. As you, an astute lady, knows, gas prices have two huge factors associated 1: Domestic refining capability to handle US needs and their locations, the savings from our own domestic supplies sans shipping costs, and 2: The price on the world market that must be paid to purchase crude we don’t produce and must ship to meet our own needs.On the world market, Obama’s a huge fail, since he’s reduced the US E&P ability for our GOM supplies, while s-l-o-w-l-y ramping up some natural gas and shale. He’s a second huge fail by invading Libya in a not a war , under NATO banners a country that not only has the coveted sweet crude, but also was a quasi ally in the GWOT.On the domestic, that’s shared criticism since, as OT points out, we haven’t built a new refinery since the mid 70s despite increased use. This also comes into play with developing new source fields in places with no pipe lines or mass transit to move the various oils via trucking.Congress as a whole *and* both parties have done nothing to stave this off. Nor is it news that, yet again, Congress throws a mock kangaroo court hearing to feign interest. Sorry. I can’t lay this on Obama anymore than I can lay it on Bush or prior admins. It is, as you say, a dog and pony show. However it is a bipartisan us vs them bipartisan show.Reply

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