(CNSNews.com) - The Republican presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told CNSNews.com today that if elected Romney will rescind in its entirety a regulation finalized last month by the Obama administration that requires all health-care plans in the United States to cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortions.
The Obama administration’s final version of the regulation effectively exempted only an actual church—such as a Catholic parish—from the regulation, while insisting that it would be fully enforced on individuals, private business owners, non-religious private-sector organizations and insurers.
Romney published an op-ed in the Washington Examiner today in which he said he would eliminate the rule that compels “religious institutions” to purchase health-care plans that cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives. Romney did not say in the op-ed, however, whether he would eliminate the rule insofar as it applies to individuals, private-sector businesses, non-religious private-sector organizations and insurers.
“And on day one I will eliminate the Obama administration rule that compels religious institutions to violate the tenets of their own faith,” Romney wrote in the Examiner. “Such rules don’t belong in the America that I believe in.”
Through his campaign press office, CNSNews.com asked Romney today via email about this: “Will Mitt Romney, on day one, rescind this mandate in its entirety—as the Catholic Church has urged the current administration to do—so that individuals, employers and insurers who have a ‘moral or religious objection to contraception or sterilization’ will not be forced to violate the tenets of their own faith or act against their consciences?”
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams responded: “Yes--Governor Romney would rescind the mandate in its entirety.”
Some media reports have erroneously said that the U.S. Catholic bishops have simply asked the Obama administration to expand the religious exemption in the regulation so that it would cover religiously affiliated organizations such as Catholic hospitals, universities, and charitable organizations as well as Catholic parishes. In fact, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops informed the administration, in writing, in comments submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services, that the bishops believed the regulation in its entirety violated the First Amendment rights of individuals, employers and insurers and must to be rescinded in its entirety.
“First, we comment on the mandate that all health plans cover prescription contraceptives, sterilization, and related patient education and counseling,” the bishops told HHS. “This mandate, we submit, should be rescinded in its entirety.”
“[A]s applied to individuals and organizations with a religious objection to contraceptives, sterilization, and related counseling and education, the HHS mandate violates various protections under the Religion Clauses and Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ('RFRA') and the Administrative Procedure Act ('APA'),” said the bishops.
“Second, we comment on the regulation’s religious exemption ('HHS exemption' or 'the exemption')," said the bishops. “The exemption provides no protection at all for individuals or insurers with a moral or religious objection to contraceptives or sterilization, who will experience burdens to conscience under this new mandate. Instead, it provides protection only to employers with similar objections, and even then to a very small subset of religious employers.”
“By failing to protect insurers, individuals, most employers, or any other stakeholders with a religious objection to such items and procedures, the HHS exemption, like the mandate itself, violates the First Amendment and the APA,” said the bishops.
“In sum,” they said, "we urge HHS to rescind the mandate in its entirety.”
As it now stands, the regulation will take effect on Aug. 1 of this year for all American individuals and employers except religious non-profit organizations that object to sterilization and contraception on moral grounds. Those organizations, the administration has ruled, will have an extra year to "adapt" to the federal mandate but will have to comply as Aug. 1, 2013.