Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is seeking to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill in November, railed against HHS rules on religious liberty during a speech at the Republican State Leadership Committee dinner in Washington, D.C. on Friday.
According to The Kansas City Star, Mr. Hawley, a former federal prosecutor who has campaigned as a staunch conservative, said that his office had produced a “work product” which claims HHS has “no authority” to interpret the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as giving certain organizations the right to deny access to contraception to employees, without HHS formally asking permission first.
Although Missouri is in the delegation that has pushed for these particular rules, Mr. Hawley said “even if we are correct on the legal issues, the department has the responsibility and duty to ensure there is fairness and transparency.”
He called the rule “ill advised” and said that its “perverse implementation” could “undermine” civil rights protections and violate religious liberty, according to The Washington Post. He accused the department of “misusing regulation as a weapon.”
The rule, which went into effect in December 2018, was intended to clarify the constitutionality of employer exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Employers are generally required to cover all FDA-approved forms of contraception for employees free of charge. Employers, however, are allowed to cite religious or moral objections as justification for not providing those services. The law also says that any religious employer that has been granted an exemption must notify the Department of Health and Human Services of its position, otherwise the exemption may be revoked. The law also allows for exemptions for non-profits as well.
Mr. Hawley said that he had written a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar asking that HHS Secretary Alex Azar withdraw the rule immediately and rework the policy, which could be done by amending the 1986 federal legislation that outlines religious freedom provisions.
According to Reuters, during the speech, Mr. Hawley criticized Democrats for promoting an “equity agenda” and said that his approach to passing legislation in the Senate was more “moderate.”
“Democrats are attacking Roe v. Wade in part because they know it is causing havoc in families across this country. It has frayed people’s empathy muscles and it is tearing people apart,” Mr. Hawley said, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
Mr. Hawley is also running against David Scrivner, a Democratic candidate who served for two terms as the St. Louis County Executive.