Mitt Romney accused President Obama of waging “the assault on religion” during a conference call with Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition last night and said that the administration is “fighting to eliminate conscience clause” protections for health care works and “pave the path to same-sex marriage”:
ROMNEY: Then of course there’s the assault on religion….now he’s gone forward and said that religious institutions, universities, hospitals and so forth, religious institutions have to provide free contraceptives to all their employees, even if that religious institution is opposed to the use of contraception, as in the case of the Catholic Church. Even in that regard, fighting to eliminate the conscience clause for health care workers who wish not to provide abortion services or contraceptives in their workplace, in their hospital for instance. It’s an assault on religion unlike anything we have seen.There’s been an assault on marriage. I think he is very aggressively trying to pave the path to same-sex marriage. I would unlike this president defend the Defense of Marriage Act. I would also propose and promote once again an amendment to the constitution to define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.
In reality, health care workers can still follow their consciences and avoid prescribing contraception or assisting in abortion services. Federal regulations contain clear provisions in three separate laws shielding federally-funded health care providers’ right of conscience. For instance, the 1976 Church Amendment “prevents the government (as a condition of a federal grant) from requiring health care providers or institutions to perform or assist in abortion or sterilization procedures against their moral or religious convictions,” the Coats Amendment of 1996 prohibits the government from “discriminating” against medical residency programs or other entities that lose accreditation because they fail to provide or require training in abortion services” and the Hyde/Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment of 2004 “forbids federal, state and local governments from requiring any individual or institutional provider or payer to perform, provide, refer for, or pay for an abortion.”
Even the new Affordable Care Act regulations, which require institutions to offer reproductive health care services without additional co-pays, include a narrow religious exemption. Houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve people of the same faith will be exempt from the provision, while 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. 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, marriage equality laws that allow gay and lesbian couples to enter into civil marriages provide similar conscience protections for religious institutions, exempting houses of worship and their leaders from recognizing same-sex relationships.