WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a bill on Monday that would override the Obama administration's new rule on birth control coverage and allow religious hospitals, universities, and other organizations that morally oppose contraception to refuse to cover it for their employees.
Churches and other places of worship are already exempt from the Department of Health and Human Services' mandate, which requires that most health plans cover contraception without a co-pay beginning on Aug. 1, 2013. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, S. 2043, would expand the refusal clause to include any employer who opposes contraception "on the basis of religious belief."
"This is a common-sense bill that simply says the government can't force religious organizations to abandon the fundamental tenets of their faith because the government says so," Rubio said in a statement.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other major religious lobbying groups pushed hard against the birth control mandate, which insures that the vast majority of insured women in the country can easily afford birth control, arguing that it tramples on the constitutional right to religious liberty. Reproductive rights advocates contend that allowing certain employers to deny birth control coverage to women based on their own beliefs about contraception is unfair and discriminatory, and would have negative consequences for women's health.
"This bill will ride roughshod over the rights of American citizens so that employers can discriminate against them and take personal matters of conscience into their own hands," said Jon O'Brien, president of the advocacy group Catholics for Choice. "This is real government interference in the lives of citizens -- not very Republican of [Rubio] in an election year to have government dictating what people should do in personal matters, especially since most Catholics use a method of contraception the bishops disagree with."
Rubio, the only senator to be endorsed by the Catholic Advocate PAC, represents a state with a quarter of a million unintended pregnancies each year -- almost the highest in the country. He staunchly opposes abortion rights and federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides contraception and family planning services to millions of low-income women across the country.
"It makes no sense, given Florida's unintended pregnancy rate, to write a bill to limit women's access to birth control," said Judith Selzer, a spokeswoman for the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. "He should be working to expand access to reproductive health care services-- that would be common sense."
Rubio's office did not respond to a request for comment. But the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing two religious schools -- Belmont Abbey College and Colorado Christian University -- in separate lawsuits against the contraception rule, applauded his initiative.
"Rubio's bill is a balanced approach that will prevent the government from penalizing those who are simply being true to their religious faith," Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, said in a statement.