By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) has joined a national effort by conservative states to convince the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to adopt broader religious exceptions to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that all businesses and non-profit organizations (including religiously affiliated non-profits) purchase healthcare coverage that includes coverage for contraception, abortificients (such as ru-486 “the morning after pill”), and sterilization.
Attorney General Strange wrote a letter on Wednesday to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (D) that also was signed by twelve other state attorneys general.
Attorney General Strange said, “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. 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.”
As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as Obamacare), HHS mandated last year that all employers and insurance companies would be forced to provide coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures, including the “morning-after pill” and the “week-after pill.” The HHS did write an exemption for religious organizations that had religious objections to birth control, abortion, and/or sterilization, but it was so narrowly tailored that only an actual Church would qualify and the insurance company was still supposed to provide the coverage. It would not apply to Parochial schools, Church affiliated Hospitals like St. Vincent’s, or even to Catholic broadcaster, the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN).
AG Strange joined an EWTN lawsuit challenging that exception. Secretary Sebelius has agreed to consider broadening the exemption. Because the rule is being officially reconsidered by the administration and we don’t know what the final rule will look like a federal judge threw out EWTN’s lawsuit on Tuesday.
Strange’s letter is a public comment on those proposed regulations to address faith and conscience-based objections that religious organizations and business owners raised to the original mandate.
The Strange comment letter argues that the proposed regulations do not comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. According to Strange RFRA “cuts across all federal regulations” and requires “the federal government to use the least restrictive means to accomplish a compelling governmental interest.” Strange’s letter states that “RFRA requires [HHS] to adopt the broadest possible religious exceptions to the contraception mandate.”
According to Strange’s letter there are several problems with the proposed regulations under RFRA. The regulations give only some nonprofit religious organizations an exception to the mandate.
Also For nonprofit organizations not covered by the exception, the regulations require insurance companies to provide “free” contraception coverage. Strange’s letter describes that plan as a “shell game” and “accounting gimmick.” Strange said, “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.”
AG Strange noted: “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.”
Luther Strange was joined in his letter by Attorneys general from Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.