By Mary Morrell | Contributing Editor

The Religious Employers Exemption, a provision in state law that protects the rights of Catholic employers who choose not to violate their fundamental beliefs, is at risk of being revoked.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the New Jersey bishops, urges voters to contact their legislators and ask them to protect the Religious Employers Exemption contained in current state law, but which could be revoked through passage of S3804/A5508, part of a package of bills that N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy and the Legislature are supporting to create a New Jersey version of the federal Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act of 2010.

In a June testimony before the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Patrick Brannigan, NJCC executive director,  stated, “On behalf of the Bishops, I urge the Legislature to continue to pursue universal affordable health care with special attention given to the poor and the marginalized. However, the Catholic Conference urges the Legislature to pursue the ideal of universal health care coverage while also protecting freedom of conscience. 

“We oppose A5508 – as written – because A5508 would eliminate the religious employer’s exemption contained in State law (P.L. 2005, c.251) and would force Catholics to violate fundamental beliefs. 

“Freedom of conscience and religious liberty have been important building blocks of American society since the nation’s founding.  Our nation respects conscientious objection for those opposed to war. Our nation respects the rights of physicians opposed to taking part in capital punishment. Our nation also should respect the conscientious objections of citizens opposed to abortion.

“If the religious employers’ exemption is eliminated, Catholic parishes and schools would be forced to provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.”

A June 6 statement from the Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee noted that A5508, “amends P.L.2005, c.251, the statute requiring health insurance carriers and the state health benefits programs to cover prescription female contraceptives, by prohibiting insurers from imposing a deductible, coinsurance, copayment, or any other cost-sharing requirement on this coverage.

“Currently, federal law requires coverage for female contraceptives to be provided without cost sharing in certain circumstances. This bill would expand state law to also require coverage for female contraceptives to be provided without cost sharing.  The bill also expands coverage for female contraceptives to include all contraceptives approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for that purpose that can be purchased in this state with a prescription written by a health care professional.

“The bill also removes the exemption in current law for religious employers to provide coverage for female contraceptives if the required coverage conflicts with the religious employer’s bona fide religious beliefs and practices.”

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