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WV AG Patrick Morrisey asks DHHS to broaden contraceptive exemption

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West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has joined 12 other states in addressing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying its proposed contraceptive insurance coverage amendments do not go far enough to protect businesses' and nonprofits' religious objections.  

Last year, the department mandated employers and insurance companies to cover contraceptive and sterilization methods.

The department did, however, propose amendments last month to exempt nonprofit religious organizations—such as Catholic charities—to avoid a direct payment of that contraceptive coverage. Instead, their insurance companies would separately provide free coverage.

Morrisey along with the 12 other attorneys general from Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas, said in their letters that these regulations do not exempt for-profit business owners with religious objections.

"HHS's proposed amendments fail to address the deep faith-based concerns that many organizations and businesses have with the government demanding that they pay for certain types of health care services," Morrisey said his office's news release.

"The proposed amendments violate the religious freedoms on which this country was built because they allow houses of worship to be exempt from a mandate but they do not apply the same principle to nonprofit or for-profit companies with faith-based objections."

In their letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, the 13 attorneys general say the regulations do not remedy legal affirmatives that led to more than 50 lawsuits challenging the mandate and its limited exemption for churches and other places of worship.

They also say the proposals go against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which they say requires strict scrutiny of all federal government actions dealing with freedom of religion.

"The government is willing to grant an exception to one group but is unwilling to grant it to others who have raised similar concerns," Morrisey continued in the news release. "That is confounding and wrong."

Attorneys general also argue that cost-shifting will not help matters in nonprofits' exercise of religion.

"We all know that insurance companies do not provide anything for free; the employers are still going to be paying for these services through increased premiums or otherwise even if the insurance companies technically covers those products through a separate ‘free' policy," the attorneys general write in their letter.

President Barack Obama's administration is accepting comments on these proposed regulations until April 8.