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GOP Congresswomen Laud Proposed Contraception Mandate Rollback as Religious Victory

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

WASHINGTON – Citing religious freedom, five Republican congresswomen last week praised President Trump’s plan to roll back Obamacare mandates requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage for workers.

Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), Martha Roby (R-Ala.), Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) wrote a joint letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in support of HHS’s draft proposal on the rollback. The Obama administration’s mandates spurred a firestorm with religious groups, who argue that the requirements violate religious freedom.

The debate came to a head in May 2016, when the Supreme Court remanded Zubik v. Burwell back to the lower courts, a decision seen as a victory for the Roman Catholic group Little Sisters of the Poor, which was fighting the threat of millions of dollars in fines for refusing to adhere to the Obamacare mandates. The Supreme Court decision was a consolidation for several religious groups challenging the mandates, including Priests for Life and several religious universities.

“Obamacare has devastated religious organizations, schools, and businesses, forcing them to cover abortion-related services that violate their religious beliefs,” Black said in a statement last week. “Protecting religious liberty is a foundational principle of this country, and this draft rule is a victory against President Obama’s assault on people of faith nationwide.”

Vox first reported details of HHS’ draft proposal. Prior to the leak, Trump issued an executive order on religious freedom in May directing the secretary of the Treasury, the secretary of Labor and HHS to consider amended regulations that would address conscience-based objections to preventive-care mandates. Hartzler said the rollback will allow religious groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide policies that are consistent with their conscience.

“The previous administration’s heavy-handed approach went out of its way to force a mandate that violates the faith and ethical sensibilities of the American public,” Hartzler said in a statement. “This action strikes a balance between federal interests and core First Amendment principles — a far cry from threatening the Little Sisters of the Poor with crippling fines for practicing their faith in everyday life.”

A Morning Consult poll released last week found that Americans are evenly split on the issue, with 41 percent of respondents saying that religious groups should have to provide contraceptive care, like birth control pills, to their employees even if they have objections. Thirty-nine percent said their objections should be honored, while 19 percent were undecided.

Lawmakers in the House Pro-Choice Caucus like Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) have been vocal supporters for the Obamacare mandates, arguing that the religious challenges are an attempt to deny rightful access to birth control. They have also argued that the Affordable Care Act strikes a balance between modern healthcare needs, particularly on women’s health, and religious beliefs.

Arvin Vohra, vice chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, regarded HHS’ draft rule as an “incremental improvement” for removing the government from decisions that should strictly be between the employer and the employee.

“A free and voluntary agreement between two consenting adults should have no government involvement of any kind,” Vohra said in an interview Monday. “It’s just none of the government’s business what you do or don’t provide to your employers.”

He argued that employment is a two-way street in that both the employer and the employee have the right to refuse the agreement, based on benefits or whatever other reasoning.

“It’s perfectly fine for an employee to refuse a job because they don’t like the salary, they don’t like the benefits, or they just won’t take a job that won’t pay for birth control,” he said. “That’s perfectly within their rights. We also believe that employers have the right to offer any combination of wages, benefits, whatever, that they want.”