Democrats object to DeWine letter

Critics say denying contraception services puts women at risk

4/3/2013
BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
DeWine
DeWine

COLUMBUS — Some 20 Democratic women on Tuesday took aim at Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s objections to the mandate that employers provide coverage for contraception and other reproductive services under President Obama’s signature health-care law.

Carole DePaola, a Columbus woman who contracted the human papillomavirus and is about to undergo a hysterectomy, said during a news conference that such an exemption could deny access by teens to vaccines preventing certain strains of cancer linked to HPV.

“There are vaccinations out there for 12 and 13-year-olds, boys and girls,” she said. “The way some vaccinations are looked at, some kids may not get that. But the window of opportunity is only until their early 20s.”

Mr. DeWine signed a letter last week with 12 other GOP state attorneys general, taking advantage of a public comment period on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ proposed regulations to implement the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s a matter of freedom of religion from my point of view,” Mr. DeWine said on Tuesday. “It’s not about contraception or abortion. … I believe this regulation violates the [federal] Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by Bill Clinton about 20 years ago. It builds upon the great tradition of religious liberty by ensuring the federal government does not substantially burden the free exercise of people’s religion.”

After facing a barrage of controversy during last year’s presidential election, the Obama Administration proposed sidestepping the mandate for religious organizations by requiring insurance companies to provide the contraception coverage for free as part of broader policies otherwise purchased by the organizations.

The letter from the attorneys general argues that the exemption for religious organizations should be extended to others with religious concerns, even though they challenge the concept that such coverage would be provided free from insurers. There’s no such exemption for private employers.

“DeWine wants to allow all employers the right to deny crucial health-care services under the so-called conscience clause under Obamacare,” said Liz Brown, the Ohio Democratic Party’s deputy executive director.

“That puts 3.3 million Ohio women at risk. If Mike DeWine has his way, any employer could drop critical health-care services because of political or personal beliefs.”

Mr. DeWine has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a federal lawsuit challenging the mandate by the Sidney, Ohio, owners of Freshway Foods.

“There’s a number of cases where the federal government has been stayed from implementing this pending a full-blown hearing,” Mr. DeWine said. “They say religion prohibits them from offering what they consider to be abortion — the morning-after pill, the week-after pill.”

Mr. DeWine was among the Republican attorneys general who challenged the constitutionality of the federal health-care law.

On the big issue, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld the law’s general constitutionality but struck down a specific provision mandating that states expand Medicaid as a condition for receiving federal funding.

Democrats are apparently preparing to run former Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper against Mr. DeWine in 2014. Mr. Pepper unsuccessfully ran for state auditor in 2010.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.