GOP bill exempts religious nonprofits, business owners from contraception mandate

A trio of House Republicans introduced a bill Tuesday that protects religious nonprofits and devout business owners from a provision in President Obama’s health care law that requires them to insure contraception for their employees, a mandate they view as an attack on the “bedrock principle” of religious freedom.

Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, spearheaded the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, which also bolsters the legal standing for health care professionals who wish to sue if they are forced to perform an abortion against their conscience at a facility that receives federal funding.

“No American should be forced to choose between their faith and their job,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska Republican, said at a news conference on the bill alongside Ms. Black; Rep. John Fleming, Louisiana Republican; and nurses and business owners who object to aspects of Mr. Obama’s health-care law.

Most notably, the legislation adds heft to the raging debate over the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

Since only actual houses of worship are currently exempted, the mandate has prompted a flurry of lawsuits from religious hospitals and universities and corporate owners who say they must choose between their faiths and the costly penalties they would incur from flouting the mandate.

The Department of Health and Human Services proposed an accommodation last month that would allows religious employers to self-certify their objections and be insulated from contraception services, which would be managed and paid for by the insurer or a third-party administration among employers who self-insure.

Supporters of the House Republicans’ new bill said the accommodation amounts to an “accounting gimmick” and the only remedy to the standoff is a full exemption from the mandate for all employers who object on religious grounds.

Bill Newland, whose Hercules Industries in Colorado is among a dozen companies that have obtained temporary relief from the mandate in federal court, said his family’s business “was started with values and beliefs grounded in the Catholic faith.”

“There’s no exceptions to the gift of life that’s granted to us,” he said in a brief interview. “That’s what our Catholic faith teaches us; that’s what we live in our business. It’s implemented in our health care plans and everything that we do.”