July 27, 2012 — In a weekly press briefing on Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) signaled that Republicans would not pursue legislation challenging the federal contraceptive coverage rules, Talking Points Memo reports. The requirement is slated to take effect on Aug. 1 (Kapur, Talking Points Memo, 7/27).
The rules implement a provision in the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) that requires health plans to cover preventive services without copayments or deductibles. In February, the Obama administration announced that it would alter the rules so that religiously affiliated employers will not have to offer contraceptive coverage for their employees, but their health insurance companies will be required to provide no-cost coverage directly to women (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/19).
House GOP members have said the requirement is an attack on religious freedom. Boehner himself has said that if the Obama administration does not rescind the requirement, "then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution we are sworn to uphold and defend, must."
However, Boehner took a different tone on the issue on Thursday. He said, "We're continuing to work with those groups around the country who believe that their religious liberties are being infringed to try to come to a resolution of this issue." He added, "Sometimes resolving this issue can be done other than legislative avenues. So we're continuing to work with them on the best way forward" (Volsky, ThinkProgress, 7/26).
Religious Groups Request Emergency Ruling To Block Requirement
In related news, the Thomas More Law Center on Wednesday filed a motion in a Michigan federal court for a temporary injunction against the contraceptive coverage rules, Politico reports. The motion was filed on behalf of Legatus, a Catholic business group; Weingartz Supply; and Weingartz President Daniel Weingartz.
HHS exempted certain religious institutions from the requirement and granted a one-year compliance period to other religiously affiliated groups while it works out a compromise. However, private employers are not exempt. Although a number of lawsuits have been filed against the rules, only three represent employers, according to Erin Mersino, the lead counsel in the lawsuit.
"Our lawsuit is specifically about the religious freedom of our clients," Mersino said, adding that businesses that oppose contraception "have no safe harbor and no exemption within the law." A judge has scheduled a conference for Friday and could schedule a hearing then, she said (Kenen, Politico, 7/26).
Ruling in Separate Case Set for Friday
Meanwhile, a Colorado judge on Friday is expected to rule in a separate case filed by a small business owner -- Hercules Industries, a Catholic-owned manufacturing company -- seeking to block the birth control requirement (Haberkorn, Politico Pro, 7/25).