Pat Toomey: Religious Employers Need Additional Exemptions From Offering Coverage For Contraceptives

On Friday, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) fired off a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services expressing concern about the conscience protections in a new rule requiring insurers and employers to offer contraception services without additional co-pays. A press release from Toomey’s office admits that the rule does exempt “those religious employers who primarily serve and employ individuals who share their religious tenets,” from offering the services, but argues that “this narrow exemption would prove impossible for Catholic hospitals, universities, colleges, nursing homes and charities given the diverse population that they serve and their workforce.” From the letter:

This regulation requires that a Catholic institution either violate its fundamental beliefs by providing coverage that includes contraception and sterilization or, per the new requirements of PPACA, potentially pay a heavy financial penalty for failing to provide what PPACA deems adequate health coverage to their employees. The myriad of existing regulations generated by PPACA and other federal laws already impair the work of Catholic institutions across Pennsylvania. If this additional federal regulation is imposed as promulgated, it may prompt some Catholic institutions to close their doors, adversely impacting the tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians these entities serve. The aggressive nature of this regulation threatens religious freedom and is unacceptable.

But Catholic universities and organizations already provide contraceptive coverage for their employees — the HHS rule, issued as a result of the Affordable Care Act, simply requires that they offer these services without co-payments or deductibles.

In fact, Catholic Charities has challenged state contraceptive equity laws in both New York and California, but lost “on the basis of a 1990 Supreme Court decision, Employment Division v. Smith, which barred most religion-based exemptions from laws that are neutral, generally applicable and that do not single out religion for special burdens.” The states argued that “the organizations were not being placed in the position of approving birth control, any more than any other employer that provides health coverage is deemed to express ‘approval of every medication or treatment used by the employees.'” The California Supreme Court has also rejected a challenge by Catholic Charities to that state’s similar law.

Last month, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011,” Senate Bill 1467, “to allow health care providers and pharmacists to deny birth control to women if it conflicts with their religious or moral convictions.” An identical bill was also introduced in the House.