7 states sue to block contraception mandate

Seven states filed a lawsuit Thursday to block the federal government's requirement that religious organizations offer health insurance coverage that includes free access to contraception for women.

The attorney generals of Texas, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Carolina jointly filed the lawsuit in a Nebraska US District Court.

Two private citizens, two religious non-profit organizations and a Catholic school also joined the lawsuit against the contraception mandate, which is part of President Barack Obama's sweeping health care law.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare the law unconstitutional and enjoin the government from enforcing the requirement.

The states filed the suit despite a compromise announced by Obama earlier this month in which religious organizations with objections to the law will no longer be required to offer free birth control to female employees next year.

Under Obama's new approach, insurance companies, rather than religious organizations, will be obligated to offer contraception for free to the institutions' employees.

"The president's so called 'accommodation' was nothing but a shell game: the mandate still requires religious organizations to subsidize and authorize conduct that conflicts with their religious principles," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement. "The very first amendment to our Constitution was intended to protect against this sort of government intrusion into our religious convictions."

The Obama administration did not comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has previously filed several lawsuits on behalf of religious organizations also seeking to strike down the law.

Houses of worship -- such as churches, synagogues and mosques -- are exempt from the law's requirement of providing contraceptives to female employees, but religious leaders have expressed outrage that other religious organizations -- such as schools and hospitals -- are not barred from the law's reach.

Like the Texas attorney general, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said earlier its month it still opposed the federal government's mandate after Obama's compromise.

The religious freedom issue has become a major political topic, with each major Republican presidential candidate saying they oppose Obama's requirement.

And on Wednesday, a federal judge blocked a Washington state regulation that forced pharmacists to sell emergency contraceptives over their religious objections.