Birth Control Mandate Becomes Law

HHS mandate fightThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued its final version of the controversial birth control mandate, but extended the mandatory compliance date from August 1 to January 1, 2014.

According to the Catholic News Service (CNS),  the mandate will require all employers, including religious employers to provide insurance coverage of contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortion-inducing drugs, or face stiff fines that could put many out of business. It includes a narrow exemption for some religious employers.

“We have received and started to review the 110-page final rule on the HHS mandate,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We appreciate the extension of the effective date by five months, which is readily apparent in the rule,” he said. “The remainder of the rule is long and complex. It will require more careful analysis.  We will provide a fuller statement when that analysis is complete.”

Those who have reviewed the final version say the agency did little more than “tinker” with a few provisions but essentially left the rule the same as before.

“The news about the final rule is pretty simple: It’s more of the same,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Speaking to reporters on a telephone news conference on June 28, Rossbach said final rule “is not very different from the inadequate rule” originally issued and the HHS once again failed to tacked the “fundamental religious questions.”

He concluded: “Essentially, we’re where we’ve been all along; the change now is it is final,” he said, adding that unresolved issues will have to be addressed by the courts.

Attorneys for the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) are still assessing the final version, but said their initial analysis has been disappointing.

“The final rule issued today is inadequate because it appears to have changed nothing,” said EWTN President & Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw.

As EWTN explains in a press release, the proposed rule released in February of 2013 separated organizations into churches, eligible organizations, and everyone else. Under that proposed rule, religious organizations were fully exempt, eligible organizations received an accommodation, and everyone else was mandated to pay for abortion-causing drugs, contraceptives, and voluntary sterilization procedures.

EWTN responded by filing public comments strongly arguing that these services and drugs are not health care, are validly objectionable on grounds other than religious beliefs, and that the rule was faulty for allowing only churches to be fully exempt while leaving organizations like EWTN on shaky ground, unable to reliably determine if it even qualifies as an eligible organization. The proposed rule also failed to show that the “accommodation” provided for eligible organizations did anything to actually accommodate reasonable objection to the mandated services.

“Despite this news, we are encouraged by the recent court victories for Tyndale Publishers and Hobby Lobby because these cases demonstrate that the rule unfairly limits religious liberty and first amendment rights. EWTN and its attorneys at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty will continue to assess the options at this time,” Warsaw said, adding that they remain committed to “fighting this senseless mandate.”

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