Vol 29, Issue 8 Print Issue

The Rubber Meets the Road

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott made good on his promise to fight the constitutionality of the federal government’s contraception rule, joining six other states and a handful of Catholic organizations in a lawsuit challenging a new federal health care rule that would require all employers to include coverage for contraceptives in employees' health care benefits.

“Obamacare’s latest mandate tramples the First Amendment’s freedom of religion and compels people of faith to act contrary to their convictions,” Abbott said in a news release. “The very first amendment to our Constitution was intended to protect against this sort of government intrusion into our religious convictions.”

Opposition to the rule was heated in Texas, and many Catholic-run businesses were vocally opposed to it. Seton Healthcare Family, a nonprofit hospital system that serves 1.8 million Texans, vowed not to change its policies to include contraceptives in employees' health care coverage.

But many religious organizations opposed to the rule, including Seton, were appeased when President Barack Obama revised it to exempt religious organizations. The rule now requires insurance companies to ensure that women who work for exempted religious organizations receive contraceptive coverage. 

The revision was deemed a compromise nationally, but many Texas leaders and business advocates still opposed the mandate.

The “so-called ‘accommodation’ was nothing but a shell game: the mandate still requires religious organizations to subsidize and authorize conduct that conflicts with their religious beliefs,” Abbott said in the news release.

The lawsuit alleges that the so-called contraception rule violates the First Amendment by requiring religious organizations to provide coverage that violates their religious beliefs. It also alleges that the revision will violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by allowing the federal government to “troll through an organization’s religious beliefs” to determine whether the employer qualifies for an exemption. 

Texas now has 17 lawsuits pending against the federal government, including an effort with 25 other states to overturn the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In the end, the fights with the feds boil down to the cost on the state and Texas businesses — and this latest addition to the list of lawsuits is no exception. Abbott’s office also alleged that the “practical effect” of the contraceptive rule would be to drive up state health care costs, because religious employers would be forced to drop health insurance coverage of those employees who could inevitably be added to the Medicaid rolls.

Bill Hammond, the president and CEO of the Texas Business Association, which is opposed to the rule, also pointed to the costs at stake when Obama first issued the compromise.

"State and federal governments' mandates on health insurance policies, of any kind, simply drive up the cost of health insurance," he said.