Attorney General Pam Bondi is dragging Florida into an unnecessary moral crusade. By signing on to a multistate federal lawsuit challenging the contraception coverage requirement in the health care reform law, Bondi is choosing the most narrow thinking in the Catholic Church over the rights of Florida women.
Bondi claims she is standing for religious liberty by asserting that religiously affiliated employers such as hospitals and universities that are engaged in secular work should not have to offer health coverage that includes contraception. But she ignores the liberty of employees at those institutions who should not be subject to religious tenets as a condition of employment.
Seven states, including Florida, are part of this transparently political suit against the Obama administration. The plaintiffs include a Catholic school, two Catholic organizations and individuals. This may be dressed up as a First Amendment fight, but it is really is part of a larger organized effort to undermine the whole of health care reform and the benefits it will provide. With a Florida-led lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act scheduled for oral arguments next month before the U.S. Supreme Court, there is no need for this latest legal attack.
The lawsuit filed Thursday echoes the battle between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the administration over which religious employers are exempt from the health care law's requirement that, as part of preventative health care, free contraception must be part of any new employee health insurance plan. The bishops say the administration's "religious employer" exemption is too narrow since it only covers houses of worship and any other employer who primarily employs and serves people of the same faith with the purpose of inculcating religious values. They want every religiously affiliated enterprise to be exempt, no matter how secular the work, even when it is supported through taxpayer funds.
Their demands are unreasonable. But in response the Obama administration agreed to give religiously affiliated employers the freedom to choose not to cover contraception. Instead, the obligation was transferred to the insurance carrier, with no additional cost to the employer or the employee. Even that generous accommodation is not enough for the bishops or their Republican helpmates. Florida's Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has introduced federal legislation to exempt any employer from the contraception mandate by claiming a religious objection.
Already, 28 states (but not Florida) mandate contraception coverage in prescription drug plans, with some states providing no religious exemptions at all. Catholic universities and hospitals across the country have complied without it diminishing their faith. They understand that health insurance is part of employee compensation, like a salary or sick days. Imagine if Catholic hospital nurses were told they couldn't use their pay to purchase contraception.
Making birth control widely and freely accessible is a major medical and societal advance, and the Catholic Church can fight its own battles. Bondi should not be dragging Florida into it.