The Austin Chronicle

Abbott Balks at Birth Control Mandate

By Jordan Smith, February 17, 2012, News

On the same day that President Barack Obama ceded some ground to religious organizations who were unhappy with a provision of the health care law that would require most insurance plans to cover birth control without a co-pay, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott jumped on board with nine other attorneys general to decry the birth control mandate as unconstitutional.

Religious organizations would have to eliminate health coverage for employees altogether in order to avoid the birth control mandate, according to the AGs. "The only viable alternative for these employers is to penalize their employees by ceasing the provision of health insurance altogether," they wrote. "The choice for such organizations essentially becomes: provide and subsidize activity in contravention with core religious beliefs, eliminate employer-provided health coverage, or withdraw from public ministry." Unless the feds rescind the new rule, the AGs wrote, they'll be compelled to sue. "Should this unconstitutional mandate be promulgated, we are prepared to vigorously oppose it in court," they wrote.

Dramatics aside, the new provision was fairly simple: It required private health plans to cover birth control without a co-pay. This would, of course, require religiously affiliated institutions, such as Catholic universities, to follow the new law but would not affect church employees. Nonetheless, the U.S. Catholic bishops raised a stink, prompting Obama to tweak the plan: Now the onus will be on insurance companies to ensure the coverage, he said Feb. 10.

In support of the provision, more than 600 doctors have signed a letter put together by Doctors for America that urges the federal government to maintain the new contraceptive rule. "I have practiced medicine for over 30 years," said Dr. Carmen Nevarez, a Catholic physician in Oakland, Calif., in a press release. "Women prove to me, year after year, that they are capable of making the best decisions for themselves and their families. They also need a fair and equal chance to the resources needed to make those choices."

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