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Judge dismisses Ohio birth control lawsuit

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By The Associated Press
Friday, March 22, 2013, 9:06 p.m.
 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The government is sufficiently addressing the concerns of an Ohio Roman Catholic university and dioceses in Michigan over a provision of the federal health care law mandating employer-provided birth control, a federal judge ruled on Friday in dismissing their lawsuit.

Franciscan University of Steubenville and an association of Michigan Roman Catholic dioceses sued last year, saying the mandate violates religious freedom by requiring a Catholic entity to comply with the rule.

That portion of the federal health care law came under fire from religious groups that object to the use of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

In response to the criticism, the Obama administration has been trying to soften the mandate to accommodate religious groups, such as shifting the requirement from the employers to health insurers themselves.

The Justice Department told the court that the school and dioceses are protected from the mandate's requirements until at least 2014.

The department also said the lawsuit was not timely because changes were being made to the regulations to meet the groups' concerns.

U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley sided with the government, saying the groups could not prove they would ever likely suffer the harm they allege.

He noted that 15 other federal courts have ruled that similar lawsuits were not timely, and most of those 15 decisions determined the groups filing the lawsuits lacked jurisdiction.

The judge also criticized Franciscan University over its decision in May to drop its student health insurance program out of fear of one day having to provide coverage for contraception.

Marbley said the university cannot argue harm based on “a phantom specter” created by its own fears, which the government has stated are unsubstantiated.

“It is gravely unfortunate that Franciscan's students have lost the opportunity to receive health insurance coverage from the University,” the judge said.

“To the extent Franciscan claims its decision to discontinue providing student insurance is a hardship to itself, however, the hardship is self-inflicted,” Marbley continued.

Both the Justice Department and an attorney for the Michigan dioceses declined to comment.

Franciscan University promised to refile the lawsuit at the appropriate time.

The Rev. Terence Henry, the university's president, said the university is still being harmed because, while its current health insurance plan is protected by a “grandfathered” status, any changes in the plan could trigger forced acceptance of the mandate.

“We will not stop fighting this unjust mandate, and we are in this for the long haul,” Henry said in a statement. “We are very confident in the merits of our case, and we will continue to do everything in our power to protect our constitutional right to religious freedom.”

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