The dome of the New Jersey State House is seen in this file photo.
The dome of the New Jersey State House is seen in this file photo.
Gov. Phil Murphy has signed into law a bill that eliminates a long-standing religious employers’ exemption contained in state law requiring health insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. The law goes into effect April 19.

The legislation, S3804/A5508 – signed Jan. 16 – was part of a package described by the Governor’s Office as “bills to safeguard the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in New Jersey. The bills, which will codify into state law the basic protections for health care consumers that are part of the Affordable Care Act, include protections for no-cost preventative care and contraception, prohibit exclusions for pre-existing conditions, allow children to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26, and incorporate mental health and maternity care as part of essential benefits, among others.”

Before the legislation was passed, state law had protected religious employers from having to provide health insurance coverage for family planning medications, devices and procedures, including abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations.

Now signed into law, the legislation will force Catholic organizations such as schools, dioceses and social service agencies to offer employees health benefits that violate fundamental Catholic principles.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C. M., has long spoken out against the threats to religious freedom, especially through the efforts to do away with religious exemptions for health care, which would force religious employers to put aside their religious beliefs and violate their consciences.

In a 2012 video message, Bishop O’Connell stressed, “We are witnessing the gradual, but steady, active governmental erosion of the protection this nation has always guaranteed for the free exercise of religious beliefs in accordance with our conscience, what we call religious liberty.”

In a 2019 message, Bishop O’Connell warned that the Catholic Church – a longtime voice calling for universal health care – “would be punished by the State of New Jersey by legislation described as ‘intended to improve health care for citizenry.’ … This [then] proposed legislation is nothing more than another thinly veiled assault on religious freedom masquerading as ‘health care reform.’”