February 24, 2012 — Seven state attorneys general on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the new federal rules on contraceptive coverage violate the First Amendment rights of religious employers that oppose contraception, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 2/23).
The lawsuit marks the first legal challenge filed by states against the requirement. Some religiously affiliated universities and a Catholic television network also have challenged the rules in court (Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 2/24).
The rules implement a provision in the federal health reform law (PL 111-148) that requires health plans to cover preventive services without copayments or deductibles. Earlier this month, President Obama announced that religiously affiliated employers will not have to offer contraceptive coverage for their employees, but their health insurance companies will be required to provide the coverage directly to women at no additional charge. Originally, the administration exempted certain religious employers from covering contraceptive services for their employees, but it did not exempt religiously affiliated organizations with more general missions, such as Catholic hospitals and universities (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/21).
The lawsuit was filed by attorneys general from Florida, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas (Wall Street Journal, 2/24). Pius X Catholic High School, Catholic Social Services, Catholic Mutual Relief Society of American and two private citizens also are plaintiffs (Cohen, CNN, 2/23).
The lawsuit alleges that religious employers that oppose contraception would be effectively forced to stop offering health coverage, which would lead to higher enrollment in state Medicaid programs and increase patient volume at state-subsidized hospitals and medical centers (AP/USA Today, 2/23).
Although religious employers have an extra year to comply with the rules, the lawsuit contends that the agency has already finalized the rule and that Catholic institutions are subject to the requirement now. HHS has said it will continue to work on the final regulations for religiously affiliated employers during the one-year period (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/23).
Opinion Piece Argues Against Efforts To Expand 'Conscience' Protections
Obama's exceptions for religiously affiliated employers are "not good enough for some on the right," the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of American United for Separation of Church and State, writes in a Bellingham Herald opinion piece. He continues, "According to the right, big, religiously affiliated universities and hospitals have some sort of 'corporate conscience' that must be protected -- even if it tramples an individual's rights." He adds that "conservatives are now arguing that this so-called 'right' to tailor health care to religious demands must be extended to private employers." Under such a system, if a "boss becomes a fundamentalist Christian and decides that childhood vaccines demonstrate a lack of faith in God, he can deny coverage to all of his workers."
Lynn argues, "This is not 'religious freedom,' It is control of others." He adds, "The government has no obligation to assist an employer [in] impos[ing] his religious beliefs on others" (Lynn, Bellingham Herald, 2/23).
Washington Post Column Critiques Santorum's 'Flip-Flop' on Family Planning Funding
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus writes that she was "ready to write something nice about" Republican presidential candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) for his "self-described support for Title X, the federally funded family planning program that provides contraceptive services for low-income women." She adds, "Santorum has pointed to his support for Title X in explaining his position on contraception: personally opposed but not in favor of imposing that view on others."
However, Marcus notes, Santorum contradicted himself at the GOP debate this week, saying that he only voted for family planning funding because it was "included in a large appropriation bill that includes a whole host of other things." Marcus writes, "When it comes to flip-flops, this is a land speed record," adding, "If Santorum has 'always opposed Title X funding,' you sure can't tell from his record." She cites a 2006 interview in which he touted his support for Title X.
Marcus further notes that Title X family planning services help reduce unintended pregnancies, thereby reducing unintended births and the need for abortion (Marcus, Washington Post, 2/23).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership