State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, has filed the latest in a string of legal briefs he has issued since launching his campaign to be the state's next attorney general. This one was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of companies that are disputing the federal government's ability to mandate that they provide health care coverage of contraceptives for their employees.
In his amicus brief for Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, Branch says he filed it to "prevent the federal government from forcing employers, including many employers in Texas, to violate their heartfelt religious convictions."
With regard to provisions of the Affordable Care Act that mandate coverage of contraception, Branch wrote: "This Administration has chosen to enforce a mandate that serves no compelling purpose, but nonetheless forces countless individuals and institutions to choose between violating their sincerely held religious beliefs or face draconian sanctions. That is plainly a violation of the First Amendment and [Religious Freedom Restoration Act.]"
Julianna Gonen, director of government relations for the Center for Reproductive Rights in Washington, D.C., said that the debate had focused too much on employers' religious views and not enough on the rights of employees.
"I think it would be a very strange interpretation of religious freedom to hold that an employer could dictate to an employee what health services she can access because of the employer's religious views," she said.
She also said that, in public health circles, there was not much debate about the importance of improving access to contraception.
"Preventing unintended pregnancy is a major public health objective, and contraception is the primary way that we do that." Gonen said. "Covering it with insurance is essential because out-of-pocket costs for women can sometimes prevent them from using it, or using it consistently, or using it effectively. And some of the most effective forms of contraception, the longer acting forms, are the most expensive ones, so insurance coverage is important for that reason."