7:48am

Thu December 2, 2010
Shots - Health News Blog

Federal Judge Rules Health Law Does Not Require Abortion Funding

When U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday filed by Liberty University in a challenge to the federal health law, most of the coverage about the decision centered on the judge upholding the mandate that most individuals either have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Less noticed, however, was the judge's thorough rejection of another claim made by the plaintiffs from Liberty (founded by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell) and other anti-abortion advocates. They argued the law would require employers to provide workers with insurance coverage that would pay for abortions.

Judge Moon, who sits in the Western District of Virginia, wasn't convinced. He said Liberty failed to show how any payments required under the law "whether fines, fees, taxes or the cost of the policy, would be used to fund abortion." To the contrary, he decided, the law "contains strict safeguards at multiple levels to prevent federal funds from being used for abortion services beyond those in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered."

But Liberty's legal setbacks didn't end there. The judge also rejected the university’s argument that being required to purchase insurance from companies that also sell plans that do cover abortion violates rights to freedom of religious expression.

On that score, Moon wrote Liberty cited "no case for the proposition that compelling the purchase of insurance expresses a message, let alone would express a particular message about Plaintiffs’ position on abortion with which Plaintiffs disagree."

Buying health insurance "is a commercial transaction that reflects a personal choice about the best mix of coverage and price that serves one's medical needs," he wrote. Sure, a person's religious beliefs may play a part in that calculus, but, he continued "the purchase and maintenance of the policy is not itself a speech activity, thus the First Amendment is not implicated."

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