Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has joined attorneys general from 12 other states in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to adopt broader religious exceptions to the HHS mandate that many businesses and non-profit organizations purchase specified insurance products even when it violates their sincerely-held religious beliefs.
The attorneys general voiced their concerns in a letter sent to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
"Despite repeated claims to the contrary, President Obama's proposed rules clearly require Ohio employers and religious organizations to violate their consciences," DeWine said. "I urge that these rules be replaced to protect Ohioans' religious liberty and to avoid continued litigation over these illegal mandates."
To implement the Affordable Care Act, HHS mandated last year that "non-grandfathered," non-exempt employers, including those with religious and conscience-based objections, would have to provide coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures, including the "morning-after pill" and the "week-after pill." The letter is a public comment on proposed amendments HHS claims addresses faith and conscience-based objections that were raised to the original mandate.
The letter identifies several problems with the proposed regulations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That federal law imposes "strict scrutiny" of all federal government actions that substantially burden the exercise of religion. The proposed regulations give only some very limited class of nonprofit religious organizations an exception to the mandate, even though there is no compelling reason to treat different religious organizations differently. For nonprofit religious organizations not covered by the exception, the regulations require insurance companies to provide "free" coverage for "reproductive services." The letter describes that plan as a "shell game" and "accounting gimmick," and the religious organizations are still required to take actions that facilitate the provision of coverage to which they object. The letter states, "We all know that insurance companies do not provide anything for free; the employers are still going to be paying for these services through increased premiums or otherwise even if the insurance company technically covers those products through a separate 'free' policy." Lastly, and very significantly, the regulations provide no exception at all for for-profit business owners who object on conscience grounds.
"These regulations will force many Ohio employers to choose between harsh penalties and violating their conscience," Attorney General DeWine said. "The unfortunate reality is that many employers will cease to offer health insurance or will be coerced into acting against their consciences, and the work of charities will be impeded. This is another example of why Obamacare is bad policy, and it is another reason why I have joined attorneys general across this county to protect American families from its illegal overreach."
In addition to Ohio, the letter was signed by attorneys general from Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
DeWine reiterated that the state is pursuing litigation in defense of religious liberties. Ohio is a party to a religious liberty lawsuit challenging the regulations, and the state has filed amicus briefs in other related cases in the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
A copy of the attorneys' general letter is available on the Ohio Attorney General's website.