Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange is leading a national effort to convince the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to adopt broader religious exceptions to the ObamaCare mandate that all businesses and non-profit organizations purchase insurance for contraception and sterilization. Attorney General Strange wrote a letter sent today to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that also was signed by twelve other state attorneys general.
To implement ObamaCare, HHS mandated last year that all employers and insurance companies – including those with religious and conscience-based objections – would have to provide coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures, including the “morning-after pill” and the “week-after pill.” Today’s letter is a public comment on proposed regulations to address faith and conscience-based objections that religious organizations and business owners raised to the original mandate.
“The people of Alabama care strongly about the right of conscience and the freedom of religion, and we have enshrined those rights in our Constitution,” Strange said in a statement. “Whatever we personally may think about contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, we can all agree that the government should not be in the business of forcing people to violate their religious convictions.”
The letter argues that the proposed regulations do not comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA “cuts across all federal regulations” and requires “the federal government to use the least restrictive means to accomplish a compelling governmental interest.” The letter states that “RFRA requires [HHS] to adopt the broadest possible religious exceptions to the contraception mandate.”
The letter identifies several problems with the proposed regulations under RFRA. The regulations give only some nonprofit religious organizations an exception to the mandate, even though there is no compelling reason to treat nonprofit religious organizations differently. For nonprofit organizations not covered by the exception, the regulations require insurance companies to provide “free” contraception coverage. The letter describes that plan as a “shell game” and “accounting gimmick.” “We all know that insurance companies do not provide anything for free; the employers are still going to be paying for these services through increased premiums or otherwise even if the insurance company technically covers those products through a separate ‘free’ policy.” Lastly, the regulations provide no exception to the contraception mandate for for-profit business owners who object on conscience grounds.
Attorney General Strange said “The issue is simple: Either Alabamians and Americans around the country will be allowed to exercise their religious freedom to say ‘no’ to something they disagree with, or they won’t. We hope the Obama Administration will listen, and adopt a position that supports our first freedom rather than undermines it.”
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