New HHS Mandate Rules Disappoint

HHS mandate fightArchbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other religious leaders have expressed disappointment with the revisions made to the birth control mandate that still do not protect the consciences of those who object to this coverage on religious grounds. is reporting that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a factsheet on Friday stating their intention to publish two new regulations relating to the controversial birth control mandate which is forcing religious employers to cover drugs and procedures that violate their beliefs. The new rules are in response to a string of humiliating losses in the courts over the rule, including the Hobby Lobby case, in which judges all the way up the U.S. Supreme Court decided was in violation of the First Amendment.

As a result, the government promised yet another “fix” to the rule, which has once again turned out to be nothing more than a new set of accounting gimmicks.

“Today’s announcement reinforces our commitment to providing women with access to coverage for contraception, while respecting religious considerations raised by non-profit organizations and closely held for-profit companies,” said Sylvia Burwell, the new HHS secretary, in a statement issued on Friday.

However, religious groups such as the USCCB were not at all impressed by Burwell’s revisions, nor do attorneys believe this will be enough to enable them to win in court.

For example, the new rule retain the existing two-tier status for religious groups, with “houses of worship” being exempted from the mandate, while other religious organizations and certain for-profits, such as schools, hospitals and other religious entities, are required to notify the government they cannot comply. Insurers of non-exempted organizations are still required to provide abortion and contraceptive drugs and devices to their employees.

The modification will also force religious non-profits to notify the Department in writing of its objection instead of filling out the self-certification form which was created in the July 2013 final rule; however, because the original rule remains in effect, it merely creates another notification procedure that does the same thing as the original.

“On initial review of the government’s summary of the regulations, we note with disappointment that the regulations would not broaden the ‘religious employer’ exemption to encompass all employers with sincerely held religious objections to the mandate,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

“Instead, the regulations would only modify the ‘accommodation,’ under which the mandate still applies and still requires provision of the objectionable coverage. Also, by proposing to extend the ‘accommodation’ to the closely held for-profit employers that were wholly exempted by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Hobby Lobby, the proposed regulations would effectively reduce, rather than expand, the scope of religious freedom.”

Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, called the move “latest step in the administration’s long retreat on the HHS Mandate.”

“After three losses in the Supreme Court and dozens of losses in courts below, the government continues to confuse the issues. The government issued over 70 pages of regulations, when all it needed to do was read the First Amendment,” Windham said in a statement.

To date, 102 cases have been filed against the mandate, of which the administration has lost 90 percent. Instead of relieving religious institutions of this onerous burden, the government appears to be secretly digging in its heels while outwardly pretending to be accommodating.

Even more objectionable is that they are also seeking comment on new ways to force family businesses to violate their religious convictions in an obvious effort to skirt the recent Supreme Court ruling that granted protection to certain businesses from having to comply with the mandate.

For instance, the new regulations includes notice of a proposed rule to apply the “accommodation” to certain for-profit companies, and requests comments on how to define closely-held corporations with the obvious intent of exempting as few companies as possible.

“What remains an insulting accounting gimmick does not protect the rights of Americans with sincere conscientious objections, said Arina Grossu, Director for the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council.

“It is simply another clerical layer to an already existing accounting gimmick that does nothing to protect religious freedom because the employer still remains the legal gateway by which these drugs and services will be provided to their employees. It’s very disappointing that the Obama administration is doubling down on its plans to punish charities and non-profits that assist the poor and homeless, who in some cases have nowhere else to turn for assistance.”

For now, charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor, EWTN, and non-profit Christian colleges such as Wheaton College will be required to violate their consciences “simply because they legally contract for health coverage,” Grossu says.

“The Family Research Council urges the administration to offer a full exemption from the mandate to charities and non-profits that have sincere conscientious objections and to respect the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding family businesses like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties.”

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