A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by seven states over the Department of Health and Human Service's birth control mandate.
U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom ruled that the states did not have standing to sue. Since the mandate has not gone into effect, the states have not been harmed by the mandate, Urbom decided, siding with the U.S. Justice Department.
"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," Urbom said, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
The attorneys general for Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas, all Republican, had argued that their states would be harmed by the mandate because some religious institutions would be forced to no longer provide social services, thus putting more strain on state social services.
The mandate only provides a religious exemption for religious organizations that primarily serve those who share their religious faith. A religious organization that serves anyone in need, therefore, would be required to provide coverage for contraception, sterilization and some abortifacient drugs, even if their religious doctrine opposes the use of those services.
"The court found, essentially, that lawsuit to be premature," Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters.
Twenty-four separate lawsuits have been filed challenging the birth control mandate. Becket Fund represents some of them, including Wheaton College, which filed suit Wednesday along with Catholic University of America.
Duncan said that Judge Urbom's decision has no application to Wheaton's lawsuit, but "demonstrates just how important it is for Wheaton to join the fight now" because "Wheaton will be harmed ... in a very short period of time."
"Today's decision completely disregards the federal government's continued shell game when it comes to this rule," said Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. "Essentially, this decision asks millions of Americans to watch and wait for their religious liberties to be violated. Obviously, we're disappointed with the ruling, and we will consult with our co-plaintiffs to assess our next steps."