AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s attorney general has joined several other state attorneys general in signing a letter recently that asks President Barack Obama to reverse his administration’s stance on requiring health insurance companies to provide contraception coverage.
“A recently proposed federal mandate requiring religious employers that provide health insurance coverage to their employees to include coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and related services fails to preserve a sufficient exemption for religious affiliated organizations and is therefore unconstitutional,” Attorney General William Schneider said in a statement Wednesday. “As a result of this federal mandate, many religiously affiliated organizations could now find that they have to act contrary to their religious beliefs and provide for free contraceptive coverage in their health plans.
“This is precisely the kind of federal mandate that the First Amendment is intended to prohibit.”
Schneider’s position has angered some women’s groups. The Maine Choice Coalition said Wednesday that it’s disappointed and argued that by signing the letter, Schneider appears to be reversing his own position.
In 1999, when Schneider was a member of the Maine House of Representatives, he voted in favor of Maine’s contraception equity law. Since then, Maine law has required all health insurance policies that provide prescription drug coverage to include contraceptive coverage, with a limited exception for churches and religiously-affiliated schools.
“This is so disappointing,” said Charlotte Warren of the Maine Women’s Lobby. “At a time when so many Mainers are hurting already and organizations like ours are working to improve women’s health, we are now forced to fight against these bills that aim to reverse decades of progress for women’s health.”
Schneider is among 13 state attorneys general — all Republicans — who are threatening to sue the Obama administration for its recent policy position on birth control. The letter was sent Feb. 10 to the president.
Schneider’s office did not announce earlier this month that he would sign the letter but put out a statement Wednesday in response to media requests.
Obama endured criticism recently when he proposed a new federal policy that would have required all employers to provide contraception at no cost. Shortly after his proposal was announced, the president softened his stance and said religiously affiliated hospitals and universities would not have to contribute to the cost of birth control coverage.
Republicans, including presidential candidate Rick Santorum, have seized on the issue and have accused Obama of trampling religious freedoms.
“Religious liberty does not mean the right to impose religious views on others,” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. “Employers should not be able to impose their moral views about birth control on the women who work for them.”
There are bills pending in Congress that would allow employers to prohibit their employees from accessing health care coverage for procedures they deem morally objectionable.
Women’s groups in Maine and across the country say those bills would move the country backward.
“All women should have access to contraception, have it without a co-pay, and have it no matter where they work,” said Ruth Lockhart, executive director of the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center. “Asking for anything else is unfair — and flies in the face of what the vast majority of Mainers feel about the issue.”