By Judy Waxman, vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center - 05/29/12 11:27 PM EDT
Contrary to the claims of Professor Marc DeGirolami (“Dem-backed law could be downfall of Obama’s birth-control mandate,” May 22), the requirement that insurance plans cover contraception without copays or deductibles is perfectly legal under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The contraceptive coverage benefit does not substantially burden religious practice but rather preserves the religious liberty of individuals to make personal medical and moral decisions without interference from anyone, including their employers. In addition, it has been well established that the government has a compelling interest in protecting public health and remedying long-standing discrimination by ensuring that women receive contraceptive coverage through their health plans.
Further, employers are currently bound by Title VII, which prohibits discrimination in pay or benefits on the basis of sex. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined that when a religious organization denies benefits to women, that constitutes sex discrimination. And it determined in a ruling in 2000 that it is discriminatory to exclude contraceptives when other prescription drugs and preventive services are provided as health benefits by an employer.
A state law almost identical to the Obama administration’s contraceptive coverage mandate was upheld under an analysis similar to what courts consider under RFRA. The California Supreme Court held that the law serves a compelling state interest — eliminating gender discrimination — and was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.
From Judy Waxman, vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, Washington, D.C.
Birth control rule doesn’t violate religious freedom
The Hill’s May 22 article (“Dem-backed law could be downfall of Obama’s birth-control mandate”) on the Obama administration’s contraception benefit misstates the law and applicability of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The contraceptive benefit doesn’t violate RFRA, as the rule does not substantially burden anyone’s religious exercise — the personal health decisions of an employee are not a matter central to religious worship.
Under the administration’s proposal, religiously objecting groups will not have to pay for, or communicate about, contraception to their employees. For nonprofit organizations, including every single plaintiff in the new legal claims filed this week, the requirement will impose no burden at all.
As to the for-profits, which brought just three of the lawsuits, the government’s response makes clear that for-profits’ mission is profit, not advancement of religion — thus there’s no claim. This distinction is fundamental to tax law and other line-drawing the government does between for-profit and nonprofit entities.
RFRA allows even substantial burdens on religious exercise if they advance a compelling state interest and will achieve that end properly. This laudable initiative to provide women with better access to affordable contraception furthers several compelling objectives, including improving women’s health, children’s health, gender equality, women’s autonomy and the overall health and well-being of couples and families.
Let’s be clear: The nonprofit organizations’ lawsuits against the contraception benefit are premature and will likely be thrown out of court. They are simply staggering acts of political theater, sad examples of the extreme lengths to which birth-control opponents are evidently willing to go to reverse the biggest step forward for women’s health in decades.
From Laura MacCleery, director of government relations at the Center for Reproductive Rights, Washington, D.C.
Interior report on energy development misleading
The Interior Department recently issued another bogus report, this time claiming the majority of land leased by oil-and-gas companies for energy development is not being drilled (“Obama administration revives focus on idle leases,” May 15). Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said this month, “We continue to offer new areas onshore and offshore for leasing, as we have over the last three years.” Not so fast.
In the past three and a half years, the Obama White House has actively restricted domestic energy production, in part by slow-walking permit approvals and shortening lease terms. Unsurprisingly, the cost of a gallon of gasoline is still nearly double what it was when President Obama took office, and overall energy expenses are skyrocketing for American consumers.
What’s more, discussing the number of leases issued is deliberately misleading. A lease is not an all-systems-go signal for oil-and-gas companies; it is a move in the right direction but only the start of a long, convoluted process deliberately fraught with bureaucratic red tape. If the president were serious about our energy future, he would charge Salazar with finding out who’s responsible for the leasing and permitting delays that keep 97 percent of our federal lands off-limits.
In truth, the White House has only itself to blame for the fact that the United States is not nearly as energy-independent as it could be. Meanwhile, the White House continues its empty rhetoric about the president’s so-called “all of the above” energy strategy.
From Thomas J. Pyle, the Institute for Energy Research, Washington, D.C.