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States challenge U.S. birth control order

Feb. 23, 2012 at 11:30 PM

LINCOLN, Neb., Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Seven U.S. states sued the Obama administration Thursday to challenge an order requiring some religious employers to cover birth control in healthcare plans.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Lincoln, Neb., by seven attorneys general and joined by several Catholic organizations, contends the administration order violates the First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, The Hill reported.

"This violation of the [First] Amendment is a threat to every American, regardless of religious faith," Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said in a news release. "We will not stand idly by while our constitutionally guaranteed liberties are discarded by an administration that has sworn to uphold them."

 Attorneys general from Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas joined the lawsuit.

The administration order requires most employers to include contraception in employees' healthcare plans without charging a co-pay. Churches and other houses of worship are exempt. Institutions like Catholic hospitals don't have to provide coverage directly but employees must be able to get contraception through their insurance companies with no co-pay.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department has said it would give religious employers a year to meet the requirements and during that span decide how the policy will apply to religious employers that self-insure.

The suit said HHS had already finalized the requirements, meaning Catholic institutions have to follow them now.

House Democrats held a hearing Thursday to press their case that contraception is about health, not religious liberty, The Hill reported.

The hearing featured testimony from Sandra Fluke, who had been invited by Democrats to testify last week at a House committee hearing before Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ruled she would not be permitted to appear.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who panned GOP leaders for excluding women from a morning session of last week's hearing, arranged Thursday's hearing, The Hill said.

Fluke, a Georgetown University law student, testified Thursday that contraceptives are often used for health reasons apart from preventing pregnancy.

She said the administration policy is not "a war" on religious liberty but part of women's "struggle" for affordable contraception.

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