HHS Tweaks Contraception Mandate

It’s a common practice in all administrations to release unpopular news on Friday afternoon. That way they avoid the intense scrutiny of the media on subjects they hope will go largely unnoticed.

So it was that Friday afternoon, August 22nd, new HHS Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell released the news of a new “accommodation” concerning the Contraception Mandate of ObamaCare. Rather than an attempt to assuage the concerns about religious freedom voiced by many Americans, it is an attempt to counter legal arguments against the law currently being challenged in the courts.

The victory for religious freedom won in the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell recent decision of the Supreme Court has provoked this Obama administration to find new ways to justify their legal position. The next big threat to the Contraception Mandate comes soon when many non-profit religious institutions like Wheaton College have their day in court. The Obama administration is just trying to improve their legal argument.

The New Accommodation

When the regulations of ObamaCare first announced they would require all employers to provide contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and abortifacients (drugs that induce abortion) to all employees, the reaction of religious institutions was swift and strong. Led by The Catholic Church, this push-back resulted in an “accommodation” by HHS that said those who objected need only notify their insurance company of their objections and the insurance company would make the payments for them. But this did not satisfy the moral dilemma this regulation created and therefore over a hundred lawsuits were filed against the HHS.

The new “accommodation” seeks to satisfy the logic endorsed by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Supreme Court deliberations of Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. He proposed that the Obama administration allow insurers to cover the cost. The new rule will allow employers to register their objections to paying for such care with the government, which would then arrange for the insurance companies to provide coverage. This sounds like a distinction without a difference.

Initial Reactions

Judging by the initial reactions to this new accommodation, the issue will remain unsettled. The Los Angeles Times reported Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was disappointed the regulation only adjusted the process, rather than expand the pool of employers eligible for an exemption.

The Family Research Council, a leading conservative advocacy group, also voiced their opposition. “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,” said Ariana Grossu, director for the council’s Center for Human Dignity.

Louise Radnofsky, writing in The Wall Street Journal reports on the reactions of others. She reports John DiCamillo, staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center believes the new system is likely inadequate because it continues to use insurance plans provided by Catholic institutions as a vehicle for providing birth control, which would make them complicit in something they consider to be evil.

She also quotes Archbishop Kurtz as saying, “The regulations would only modify the ‘accommodation’, under which the mandate still applies and still requires provision of the objectionable coverage.”

HHS Secretary Burwell stated, “Today’s announcement reinforces our commitment to providing women with access to coverage for contraception, while respecting religious considerations.” Clearly their commitment is to providing free contraception and abortifacients to all women, regardless of the religious objections of those they do not consider their constituency. The November mid-term elections will be a referendum on whose vote is more important.

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