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 Virginia Catholic bishops urge Gov. Youngkin to veto contraception mandate bills

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CNA Newsroom, May 1, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Both Roman Catholic dioceses in Virginia are urging Gov. Glenn Youngkin to veto bills that would establish a “right to contraception” and require health insurance companies to provide coverage for contraception — but do not contain any religious exemptions or parental rights protections.

“Taken together, these bills would end lives and undercut parental rights,” Jeff Caruso, the executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, which represents the Diocese of Richmond and the Diocese of Arlington, told CNA.

“They also completely disregard the fundamental rights of entities with sincerely and deeply held religious or moral objections to covering or providing abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives,” Caruso said. “We urge Governor Youngkin to protect life, liberty, and parental rights by vetoing these extremely harmful bills.”

One of the bills, supported by most Democratic lawmakers and opposed by most Republicans, would require that all health insurance plans in the commonwealth include coverage for every contraceptive that has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

These contraceptives include condoms, birth control pills, and some drugs that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has warned can induce abortions in early stages of pregnancy. It does not include mifepristone, which the FDA has approved for use to abort a child in utero up to 10 weeks into pregnancy.

Per the proposed legislation, no insurer, corporation, or health maintenance organization would be allowed to impose “burdensome restrictions or delays” on contraception. The language fails to include exemptions for religious employers who object to contraception and abortion, such as the Catholic Church.

The other piece of legislation would establish a blanket “right” for every person to “obtain” and “use” contraception. The language does not limit this right to just adults, but rather extends this right to every “person.” It does not include any protections for parental rights in these decisions.

This new “right” would include both FDA-approved drugs and surgical sterilization, such as castration.

According to the proposal, the right could “not be infringed upon by any law, regulation, or policy.” 

The legislation also establishes a right to file civil lawsuits against “any person” who violates the “right to contraception.” Such lawsuits could be filed by the person who sought contraception, health care providers, or the attorney general.

The sponsors of the bill claimed during committee hearings on the legislation that the “right” does not impose any mandates on health care providers or doctors to provide contraception, but Republican opponents of the bill argued that the broad language could permit lawsuits against health care providers and doctors who do not provide contraception to someone who seeks it.

Youngkin had proposed amendments to both bills, which would have addressed many of the concerns brought up by the Catholic dioceses. However, Democratic lawmakers rejected his amendments and returned the bills back to him for reconsideration.

The governor’s proposed amendment to the health insurance mandate would have added an exemption for “sincerely held religious or ethical beliefs.” His proposed amendment to the bill that would establish a “right to contraception” would have limited its scope to the contraception rights established by the United States Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut.

Youngkin has until May 17 to act on the bills, but has not yet said what he will do. When reached by CNA, Youngkin’s press secretary Christian Martinez highlighted the governor’s support for contraception access and religious freedom.

“Governor Youngkin has been consistently clear that he supports access to contraception but desires to protect Virginians’ constitutional rights and religious liberties,” Martinez said.

Democratic lawmakers and lobbyist groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have voiced objections to the governor’s efforts to add religious freedom protections and limit the proposed “right” to contraception. 

Sen. Ghazala Hashmi and Rep. Marcia Price, who sponsored their respective chamber’s version of the legislation to establish a right to contraception, accused Youngkin of trying to “play both sides of this issue because he doesn’t want to anger the loud extremists in his party” in a joint statement

“Contraception cannot be played with: this bill is a matter of reproductive justice,” the statement read. “It is time for Governor Youngkin to stop playing games and just sign the bill.”

Breanna Diaz, the legislative and policy counsel at the Virginia ACLU, accused Youngkin of trying to “water down” the bills with his recommendations. 

“After the fall of Roe v. Wade, it’s become clear that extremists won’t stop at abortion, but are after all reproductive health care — including contraception,” Diaz said in a statement.

Alternatively, the Virginia Catholic Conference is urging Catholics to write to Youngkin to encourage him to veto the bills.


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