Blog Post

Press Unable to Bury Story About CHA Reversal on HHS Mandate

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Whenever a public figure wants the press to bury a story, they make their announcements on a Friday, and this is precisely what the infamous president of the Catholic Health Association (CHA), Sr. Carol Keehan, did last week when announcing on Friday that she no longer supports the controversial birth control mandate.

According to a variety of news sources, Sr. Keehan, who defied the bishops to publicly endorse both ObamaCare and the HHS mandate, issued a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services on June 15 in which she stated that the government's "accommodation" of a proposed rule that would force religious employers to fund insurance covering birth control, abortifacients and sterilizations, was "inadequate."

While Keehan and the CHA initially opposed the mandate, they praised President Obama's ensuing "accommodation" for religious groups which claimed to allow insurance companies to offer the birth control directly to their employees rather than involving the institutions. Consequently, the CHA discovered what so many others did within hours of the announced "accommodation" that it was nothing more than an accounting gimmick.

“While this new development seemed at the time to be a good first step, our examination and study of the proposal  . . . has not relieved our initial concerns,” wrote CHA president Sr. Carol Keehan and two members of the board.

"Accordingly…we continue to believe that it is imperative for the Administration to abandon the narrow definition of 'religious employer' and instead use an expanded definition to exempt from the contraceptive mandate not only churches, but also Catholic hospitals, health care organizations and other ministries of the Church. If the government continues to pursue the policy that all employees should have access to contraceptive services, then it should find a way to provide and pay for these services directly without requiring any direct or indirect involvement of 'religious employers,' as broadly defined."

As good as it might sound, however, Sr. Keehan isn't exactly siding with the bishops.

" . . .(A)s is becoming a tiresome habit for CHA, they aren’t standing entirely with the bishops," writes Cardinal Newman Society president Patrick Reilly. "CHA says in today’s letter to HHS that it wants the contraceptive mandate’s exemption 'broadened to cover all ministries of the Church,' just as the bishops have argued. Yet in direct contradiction to the bishops, CHA is pushing for a new definition of religious organizations that could prove even worse than the Obama administration’s current language. And if accepted, the CHA definition could be a disaster for the cause of religious liberty and for Catholic higher education."

Keehan, as well as the University of Notre Dame, are recommending a definition that draws on the Internal Revenue Code Section 414 (e) which would cause even more problems for religious institutions.

As Reilly points out, it "could exclude many Catholic institutions, depending on how strictly the courts apply the Fourth Circuit test, and would certainly exclude nondenominational Christian schools, colleges, charities and other organizations that are not affiliated with a recognized 'church'.”

Although Reilly goes on to praise the CHA for finally opposing President Obama's "hairbrained 'accommodation'", their own solution "could worsen matters beyond the President’s worsened plan. One has to wonder why the CHA would continue to press for a solution that might protect its own institutions but would leave many others out in the cold."

But there is still plenty of good to be found in this news, not least of which is the fact that even though the media, which is always happy to bury a story that might reflect badly on the president, has been unable to keep us reporters from continuing to write about it on Monday morning!

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