Religious Organizations & PPACA’s Contraception Requirement: Is The Exemption Too Narrow?

The exemption provided to religious organizations from having to provide all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling really only applies to churches, their integrated auxiliaries and religious orders and could force numerous  religious service institutions to offer to pay for services which they condemn or force them to cease providing services, according to many religious leaders.

In a letter to the Washington Post, Catholic University President John Garvey describes how this exemption does not go far enough and puts many religious services organizations in the awkward position of having to offer services which they believe are wrong and sinful or stop providing service all together.  For instance Garvey notes that Catholic universities observe norms of academic freedom and teach many other things beside the inoculation of religious values. As a matter of fact he said, “our university does not seek to impose it moral values on others.”  To be eligible for the exemption it would have to have to impose its moral values as its primary purpose.   He also notes that many religious institutions provide care to people of all beliefs; institutions such as homes for abused and neglected children, poor people and hospitals, and that even with the current exemption they would have to provide coverage for services they find reprehensible. Garvey stated that the government is forcing them to violate their own beliefs in order to provide services.

NARAL Pro-Choice America stated in a comment letter on the regulations imposing the exemption stated that “they do not believe that it is appropriate for institutions to at large to claim  a ‘conscience,’ and refuse to cover medical care that has been determined necessary by a woman’s doctor. Refusal laws must not impede women’s access to preventive health care services, and broad refusals applied to large institutions do just that.”

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act required that group health plans and health insurance issuers offering group or individual health insurance coverage provide benefits for, and prohibit the imposition of, cost-sharing requirements of evidence-informed preventive care and screening provided for women in comprehensive guidelines supported by Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).  Those HRSA guidelines included all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling.

HHS provided an exemption to religious employers that  (1) have the inculcation of religious values as its purposes; (2) primarily employees persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization.

Implementation of the requirement to provide contraception coverage was delayed until the Institutes of  Medicine makes its recommendation as to what is included in preventive health care services for women.  A Final rule is not expected for several months.