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White House Promises Change to Contraception Mandate

Wheaton College in Illinois Wheaton College in Illinois

The Obama Administration has announced that it is planning to revise a problematic rule requiring religious employers who wish to be exempt from providing contraceptive coverage to file paperwork with health insurance companies, but skeptics are taking a "wait and see" attitude toward the announcement.

The Washington Times is reporting that the changes are coming about as a result of a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving Wheaton College, a private Christian college. In this case, the college asserts that a rule implemented by the Obama Administration forcing religious employers who wish to be exempt from the mandate to file paperwork with health insurance companies allowing them to provide the coverage directly to the employee rather than through them is the equivalent of a kind of "permission slip" which they feel is a form of complicity.

The Supreme Court agreed in a 6-3 decision and enjoined enforcement of the mandate against Wheaton pending resolution of its appeal. The Court said the college should not be forced to help employees access birth control and should simply send a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services requesting exemption from the mandate.

The White House has now decided to craft a permanent change in Obamacare regulations in response to this ruling.

“In light of the Supreme Court order regarding Wheaton College, the departments intend to augment their regulations to provide an alternative way for objecting nonprofit religious organizations to provide notification, while ensuring that enrollees in plans of such organizations receive separate coverage of contraceptive services without cost sharing,” a senior White House official said. “While we are working through the details now, we expect this rulemaking to be issued within a month.”

What kind of accommodation they intend to craft is not yet known.

“If the government just kept us out of the process altogether of either triggering, authorizing, or in any fashion being the gateway for employees to receive coverage for objectionable practices, that would satisfy our concerns,” said the Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, a nonprofit, pro-life organization. “Of course, we would have to carefully examine any changes the administration makes to its current policy, in order to verify that what our faith considers immoral cooperation is completely excluded.”

Many are still very skeptical that the government believes the contraception mandate violates religious liberty.

“This is just the latest step in the government’s long retreat on the [contraception] mandate,” Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told the Times. “We hope the government will listen to the thousands of voices that called on the government to protect religious liberty. It’s time for the government to stop fighting the 30 federal court orders — including two from the Supreme Court — protecting religious ministries from the mandate.”

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