Mitt Romney argued that President Obama is waging a war against religion during his Florida victory speech Tuesday night and condemned the administration’s new regulations requiring insurers and employers to offer reproductive health care services — including contraception — without additional cost sharing. “President Obama orders religious organizations to violate their conscience; I will defend religious liberty and overturn regulations that trample on our first freedom,” Romney exclaimed, echoing a charge leveled by Catholic groups and Republicans in Congress.
Romney’s meme may play well in front of conservative audiences, but it has no grounding in actual policy and is a complete misrepresentation of the regulation and conscience protection laws around the country. Below are five reasons why Romney is wrong:
1) Religious liberty is protected in the regulation: “The Departments seek to provide for a religious accommodation that respects the unique relationship between a house of worship and its employees in ministerial positions,” the interim regulations says. As a result, houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve people of the same faith will be exempt and religiously-affiliated employers who do not qualify for the exemption and are not currently offering contraceptive coverage may apply for transitional relief for a one-year period to give them time to determine how to comply with the rule.
2) The regulation expands conscience protections in 8 states: Twenty-eight states already require employers, including most religiously affiliated institutions, to cover contraception in their health plans. The only change is that now they must cover the full cost. In fact, the administration will be expanding conscience protections in eight states, where all religious institutions are required to offer birth control coverage.
3) The regulation does not cover abortions: No matter how much Republicans are hoping to conflate contraception with abortion, Plan B is not an abortifacient. It works in exactly the same way as regular birth control pills.
4) Greater access to contraception reduces unwanted pregnancies and abortions: An overwhelming majority of Americans — virtually all women (more than 99 percent and 98 percent of Catholics) — rely on contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancies and the regulation protects the religious liberty of women who use birth control for reasons of private conscience. One study has estimated that birth control provided at publicly funded clinics helped prevent almost two million unintended pregnancies and that number will only grow as a result of the new rules.
5) Courts have upheld contraception coverage rules: Courts have upheld challenges to coverage laws, finding that a neutral, generally applicable law not targeted at religion does not burden the right to free exercise of religion. In fact, there is the possibility that a broader exemption would violate the law and allow religious institutions to pick and choose which regulations to follow. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found that the exclusion of prescription contraception from an employer-sponsored health plan constitutes sex discrimination because it only burdens women.
Some conservatives may also see Romney’s effort to “defend” religious protections as a departure from his policies as governor of Massachusetts. In 2005, Romney vetoed a “widely supported bill” making the morning-after pill available over the counter and requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. But after the legislature overrode his veto, he asked his Department of Health and Human Services to require Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception medication to rape victims.” “My personal view in my heart of hearts is that people who are subject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraceptives or emergency contraceptive information,” he told the Boston Herald.
Since announcing his candidacy for President, however, Romney has said that he would support broader federal conscience protections for health care workers and pledged to eliminate the Title X program which provides “reproductive health services like birth control” to millions of women.