Stateline Story

Republicans Sue Over Contraception

The national debate over contraception took a new turn on Thursday (February 23), with seven Republican attorneys general suing the Obama administration over a rule that requires religious-affiliated charities, hospitals and other organizations to make birth control coverage available for employees.

Led by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, the lawsuit contends that the rule violates the First Amendment rights of religious-affiliated institutions by requiring them "to support activity that violates the sacred belief of millions of Americans."

"This regulation forces millions of Americans to choose between following religious convictions and complying with federal law," Bruning, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said in a statement. "This violation of the First Amendment is a threat to every American, regardless of religious faith. We will not stand idly by while our constitutionally-guaranteed liberties are discarded by an administration that has sworn to uphold them."

The other states joining the lawsuit are Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

The federal rule, part of the new health care law, does not require churches themselves to provide birth control coverage to workers. But it does require related organizations, such as Catholic hospitals, to do so.

Catholic bishops have loudly opposed the rule, leading Obama to propose a compromise earlier this month that, while not exempting such organizations from the regulation, would no longer require them to pay for contraception. Instead, the cost would be shifted to health insurers. Bishops, however, have kept up their opposition , saying the compromise does not alleviate their concerns.

In their lawsuit, the attorneys general go beyond First Amendment arguments and also argue that the current birth control rule will swell their states' Medicaid rolls. They contend that the regulation will force many religious-affiliated organizations to drop their health insurance plans altogether, leading recipients to turn to public assistance at a time when states cannot afford it.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal trial court in Nebraska, also names three Nebraska-based religious organizations as plaintiffs against the federal government.