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GOP Lawmakers, Okla. AG Back Hobby Lobby's Contraceptive Coverage Case; Advocate Fluke Makes Appeal to Women's Health Supporters

GOP Lawmakers, Okla. AG Back Hobby Lobby's Contraceptive Coverage Case; Advocate Fluke Makes Appeal to Women's Health Supporters

February 21, 2013 — Eleven Republican lawmakers on Tuesday filed an amicus brief with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in support of retail chain Hobby Lobby's lawsuit against the federal contraceptive coverage rules, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck [1], "Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/20).

The rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require that most health plans cover contraceptive services. 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, including Hobby Lobby.

Hobby Lobby was denied a request for a temporary injunction to block enforcement of the rules. The company's Christian owners argue that providing contraceptive coverage would violate their religious beliefs (Howell, Washington Times, 2/20). Specifically, the owners object to providing coverage for emergency contraception, which they believe is the equivalent of an abortion (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/11).

Details of Brief

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) filed the brief on behalf of nine senators and two House members. All of the legislators had a hand in passing the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which "sought to curb government-imposed infringements on religious liberty," the brief stated.

Hatch said, "Religious freedom is an issue our country was founded on, and it's not a Democrat or Republican issue," adding, "Unfortunately, the Obama administration has time and again ignored calls to stop the implementation of a policy some organizations or businesses are morally opposed to."

Hatch was joined by Republican Sens. Dan Coats (Ind.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jim Inhofe (Okla.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). Reps. Lamar Smith (Texas) and Frank Wolf (Va.) also signed the brief (Washington Times, 2/20).

Okla. AG Pruitt Defends Hobby Lobby

Also on Tuesday, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) filed an amicus brief defending Hobby Lobby, which is based in Oklahoma, in its challenge to the contraceptive coverage rules.

In a statement, Pruitt said, "Any regulation that requires an employer to violate their lawful religious beliefs and practices goes directly against the ideals that our Founding Fathers set in place to protect Americans from an overbearing and intrusive government" (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/20).

Advocate Fluke Appeals to Women's Health Supporters

On Wednesday, women's health activist Sandra Fluke -- who drew national attention last year in the debate over the contraceptive coverage rules -- urged Planned Parenthood supporters to submit comments to HHS in favor of the Obama administration's accommodation for religiously affiliated employers.

In an email on behalf of Planned Parenthood, Fluke wrote, "Obama's plan strikes the right balance. It guarantees that women will be able to get birth control without a co-pay, while ensuring that the rights of religious organizations are respected" (Viebeck [2], "Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/20).