March 27, 2013 — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) and 12 other attorneys general on Tuesday sent a letter to HHS requesting that it broaden the current exemption to the federal contraceptive coverage rules for religious entities, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/26).
The rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require that most health plans cover contraceptive services. Religious entities such as churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirements (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/27). On Feb. 1, the Obama administration proposed an accommodation for religiously affiliated employers that would ensure that their health plans do not have to pay for contraceptive coverage. However, the accommodation was not extended to for-profit businesses (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/21).
The attorneys general objected to the accommodation and requested that the exemption be expanded to both non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses. They wrote that the administration "must provide a meaningful exception to the HHS mandate for for-profit business owners who object on conscience grounds."
New Brief in Hobby Lobby Case
Separately on Tuesday, the Center for Reproductive Rights announced it filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of several groups that oppose an effort by the for-profit businesses Hobby Lobby and Mardel to obtain a court order allowing them to bypass the contraceptive coverage rules.
The companies' Christian owners argue that providing contraceptive coverage would violate their religious beliefs. Specifically, the owners object to providing coverage for emergency contraception, which they believe is the equivalent of an abortion.
A federal judge denied the companies' request for a temporary injunction to block enforcement of the rules.
CRR in the brief said, "The mandate to provide insurance for contraceptive care without cost-sharing is a positive step toward respecting and protecting women's right to health, including reproductive health" (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/26).
Lawsuit by Catholic TV Network Dismissed
In related news, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by the Catholic television network EWTN that challenged the contraceptive coverage rules.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn said the lawsuit is not "ripe" because the Obama administration is still finalizing the rules. The network could file a lawsuit at a later time, she added.
EWTN President and CEO Michael Warsaw said network officials are "extremely disappointed" but "not surprised by the decision," adding that they "cannot and will not compromise on [their] strongly held beliefs on these moral issues" (Birmingham Business Journal, 3/26).