- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2013

America’s Catholic bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention joined forces on Friday, calling on Congress to pass bills that would exempt companies and nonprofits from the contraception insurance coverage mandate in President Obama’s health care law.

The Rev. William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore, and SBC President Russell D. Moore say companion bills in the House and Senate would “address threats to religious freedom and rights of conscience that have become particularly grave in the field of health care.”

Mr. Moore and the archbishop, who spoke on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, praised Republican Sens. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, and Deb Fischer, of Nebraska, for filing the Health Care Conscience Rights Act of 2013 this week.

The bill exempts faith-based nonprofits and religiously devout business owners from a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires them to offer contraception in their health insurance benefits for their employees.

The bill mirrors legislation filed in March by Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican.

“While Catholics and Southern Baptists espouse different theological views, we are united by the belief that Congress must act to help preserve our freedom of religion and conscience,” the letters to both chambers said. “We urge you to do all that you can to ensure prompt enactment of this much-needed legislation.”

Dozens of corporations and religious hospitals and colleges have filed suit over the mandate, arguing it violates their religious freedoms and First Amendment rights.

Opponents of the mandate particularly object to covering emergency contraceptives taken after sex, such as Plan B or ella, because they equate the drugs with abortion.

Supporters of the mandate say employers cannot impose their beliefs on their employees, and that health benefits are not much different than salaries that could be used to purchase birth control, anyway.

Preliminary rulings have split the federal appeals courts, a sign the issue may be headed to the Supreme Court.

The Obama administration attempted to fashion a compromise with religious nonprofits this year by offering an accommodation that insulates them from managing or paying for contraception coverage. Instead, it delegates the duty to insurers or third-party administrators.

The accommodation has been largely rejected by the Catholic bishops and other opponents of the mandate, and advocates say it would do nothing for private business owners and corporations that object to the policy.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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