Religious leaders push for ObamaCare contraception mandate exemptions

Leaders of religious groups representing more than 100 million Americans said Tuesday that religious institutions and business owners should not be forced to provide contraceptive coverage that violates their conscience.

In an open letter unveiled at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, the coalition of groups urges the Department of Health and Human Services to exempt "any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections" to the so-called contraception mandate in ObamaCare.

The letter is signed by leaders of the Roman Catholic church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Assemblies of God and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, among others.

The Obama administration issued its final compromise last week for religiously affiliated charities, hospitals and other nonprofits that object to covering birth control in their employee health plans as is required under the mandate.

Under the compromise, administration officials said they simplified the definition of religious organizations that are fully exempt from the requirement. Other religious nonprofits must notify their insurance company that they object to birth control coverage.

Rev. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptists' public policy arm, said Tuesday that the administration's finalized rule on the mandate amounted to "word games and accounting tricks," with no exemptions for religious business owners.

Moore called on HHS to "expand conscience protections under the mandate to cover any organization or individual with religious or moral objections to covering, providing, or enabling access to the mandated drugs and services."

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, according to prepared remarks, said the administration's compromise has divided the Catholic Church into camps of "accommodated" religious institutions, houses of worship and profit-making companies owned by Catholics.

"Under the now-finalized rule, for-profit institutions still receive no relief or accommodation at all, except for the relief many of them have been able to attain so far in the courts by way of preliminary injunctions or temporary restraining orders against the mandate," Lori said.

More than 60 lawsuits have been filed challenging the mandate. The cases are expected to reach the Supreme Court.

Last week, a federal judge ruled that Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby, Inc., would not have to pay fines for failing to provide access to certain forms of birth control through its employees' health care plans. The company is challenging the mandate on religious grounds.

Businesses that fail to comply potentially face fines based on the number of workers they employ and other factors. The amount for Hobby Lobby could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.