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Catholic governors seek to retain contraception mandates for religious employers

Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) of Nevada, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) of Maryland, and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) of California—all Catholics—have all supported measures against religious exemptions and supporting contraception mandates.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and his wife, Yumi Hogan, pray at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Baltimore in this May 3, 2015 photo. (CNS photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz, Reuters)

While the Trump administration is working to fulfill a campaign promise to allow employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to female employees for religious and moral reasons, a growing number of states are implementing so-called “contraceptive equity laws” aimed at retaining state level contraceptive mandates—even if the federal government rescinds them. Unfortunately, some of the governors promoting the contraception mandates are Catholic.  

Last week, Brian Sandoval, the Republican governor of Nevada signed a measure requiring insurers to cover 12 months of birth control at a time, with no co-payment. Prior to Governor Sandoval’s new contraceptive mandate for Nevada, existing laws in his state allowed employers to exclude birth control devices, pills and abortifacients if they opposed them on religious grounds.  But, Sandoval not only rejected the religious exemption, he signed a version of a bill that mandated coverage for the abortion-inducing drug mifepristone, known as RU-486.  But, Sandoval’s original bill met tremendous resistance from pro-life political leaders in Nevada, including State Senator Joseph Hardy (R-NV) who complained that Sandoval’s bill signed would create “an unfettered right to have an abortion.” The pro-life pressure in Nevada helped to restore the religious exemption and the provision of RU-486 was removed from the new bill.

Governor Sandoval, who describes himself as “pro-choice” but opposes late term abortion and federal funding for abortion, began his inauguration day as Governor with a Mass in 2011 celebrated by Las Vegas Bishop, the Most Rev. Joseph A. Pepe.  A spokesman for the governor told a reporter for the Las Vegas Sun that Sandoval “takes his faith personally.” 

Sandoval is not the only Catholic pro-choice governor committed to expanding reproductive rights at the state level—even as the non-Catholic President Trump is attempting to preserve conscience protections for Catholics and others who object to the contraceptive mandate for religious reasons.  During the same week Archbishop William E. Lori, of Baltimore, Maryland issued a statement on behalf of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcoming the Trump administration’s draft policy expanding the number of employers and insurers that could qualify for exemptions from the birth control mandate by claiming a moral or a religious objection, Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, who graduated from Maryland Catholic elementary and high schools, boasted that “Maryland would have the most comprehensive coverage for contraception in the country.” 

Hogan has long been committed to reproductive rights in Maryland.  The New York Times pointed out that Maryland’s contraceptive equity laws are “the most expansive” in the country; beginning in 2018, all forms of birth control—including vasectomies and Plan B, the so-called morning after pill—will be free for those with insurance.” 

In California, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill allowing women to be able to “pick up an entire year’s worth of birth control pills at one time.”  It will also require all healthcare plans to cover the “year-at-a-time prescription.”  The bill was strongly opposed by the California Catholic Conference.  Governor Brown also signed Assembly Bill 1954, prohibiting health plans and insurers from requiring a member to receive a referral before they may receive “reproductive and sexual health care.”  

In reporting on the Trump administration’s May 31st draft regulation broadening religious exemptions, the Associated Press published an article showing that the “share of women employees paying for their own birth control pills has plunged to under 4 percent from 21 percent since contraception became a covered preventive health benefit under the Obama-era health law…Research has shown that contraception promotes maternal health by allowing women to space out their pregnancies.”  

Abortion advocates vow to file lawsuits against the Trump administration.  According to the Associated Press, a spokesperson from the National Women’s Law Center stated, “If this rule is made final, we will file a lawsuit.” The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the Trump administration removal of the mandate is an “extremely regrettable decision to turn back the clock on women’s health.” But, Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the organization that has been representing the Little Sisters of the Poor in their fight against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate expressed hope that the leaked draft becomes law. 

 The 125-page leaked draft of the Preventive Services Final Rule, counters the alarmist rhetoric from critics by pointing out that there are “multiple Federal, state and local programs that provide free or subsidized contraceptives for low income women, including Medicaid (with a 90% Federal match for family planning services), Title X, health center grants, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.”  For the Trump Administration’s HHS, “applying the Mandate to entities and individuals with religious objections does not serve a compelling interest.” (p 36).   

The leaked document from the Trump administration also points out that “according to the Guttmacher Institute, government-subsidized family planning services are provided at 8,409 health centers overall.”  In addition, “there are various state program that supplement Federal programs and 28 states have their own mandates of contraceptive coverage as a matter of state law.”  The Title X program, administered by the HHS Office of Population Affairs provides voluntary family planning information and services for clients based on their ability to pay through a network that includes 4,200 family planning centers.  They are dedicated solely to supporting the delivery of family planning and related preventive health care—providing contraceptive supplies and information to all who need them, with priority given to low-income individuals. 

The politics surrounding the Mandate and the provision of contraception—including abortion inducing drugs—is what continues to drive all of this.  Abortion advocates will lead the resistance to ending the Mandates, but it seems that they are getting plenty of help from a growing number of politically motivated Catholic governors. 

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About Anne Hendershott 104 Articles
Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH


  1. Excuse me but these governors are no longer Catholic. They incurred automatic excommunication by their actions supporting infanticide. They will suffer eternally if they do not repent and seek forgiveness prior to their death.

  2. Brown loves to work against the Church….unless it is time to secure the votes. He once said he would use his political power to change that which “he doesn’t agree with in the Catholic Church.”

    See his record….he is doing just that with his fellow Democrats who hold every state office.

  3. Why should anyone be surprised? Why should anyone even be disappointed? This is the perfect flowering of Vatican II and New church Faith so boldly proclaimed in DH for example. After all – everyone is entitled to live according to their conscience, and government can’t interfere, or protect truth, that would be bad. So what of the person whose conscience permits abortion, and contraception… surely they must be allowed to believe what they want to believe and act as they want to act. It’s is just a simple step to get from there to paying for it so that all may exercise their consciences.

    And who is going to correct them? Pope “Who am I to judge”, or Cardinal “do the right thing, as long as it’s not too hard?” Or the bishop who starred in the mass on inauguration day. Not likely!

  4. Sadly, these governors and many more Catholic legislators are the outcome of extremely poor cathechesis since Humanae Vitae. The Church in America has been worse than lukewarm. I attend mass 5 or 6 days a week and I rarely hear abortion mentioned. Contraception? NEVER! I suspect the shepherds have much to atone for in our present situation.

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