Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS), issued an announcement late Friday afternoon indicating that her department will ignore the concerns of religious employers regarding HHS rules mandating health insurance coverage for sterilizations and contraception, including some that cause abortion, except to allow religious groups a year to comply with the law.
According to Sebelius’ statement, nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law.
The extension comes with plenty of strings attached.
“Employers wishing to take advantage of the additional year must certify that they qualify for the delayed implementation,” the statement continues. “This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule. We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.”
The powerful abortion lobby couldn’t have been more pleased with their future increased market share. NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan praised the administration for standing “firm against intensive lobbying efforts from anti-birth control organizations trying to expand the refusal option even further to allow organizations and corporations to deny their employees contraceptive coverage.”
However, reaction from pro-life leaders was swift and harsh.
“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”
He went on to call for an immediate overturning of the rule.
“The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand,” he continued. “The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.”
Patrick J. Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society, also called for legal action to protect Americans’ First Amendment rights.
“If the Obama Administration cannot respect the First Amendment of the Constitution, then we must take this fight to the courts and win,” Reilly said. “It is the greatest irony, that by worshipping the cult of ‘choice’ the Obama Administration has determined that religious organizations lack the freedom to act in fidelity to their beliefs. The White House has sold the First Amendment for a few pennies of political support from the ACLU and the abortion lobby.”
According to a statement from the Family Research Center (FRC), there are plenty of grounds upon which to wage a legal war. The mandate not only violates such existing conscience protections on abortion such as the Hyde/Weldon Amendment (in so far as Plan B and Ella are covered), but also violates the principles of the Church Amendments which protect conscience rights for those who object to contraceptives and other services on moral or religious grounds. Additionally, the U.S. government already funds domestic family planning at a level of $1.9 billion annually.
Tom McCluskey of FRC Action also pointed out the political nature of the decision, saying it “punts compliance for most religious employers with conscience objections until after the election.”
He goes on to call upon all voters who respect life to “take note of the Obama Administration’s ardent policies against life and religious liberty and vote accordingly in November.”
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