Legal analysts are scrambling today to make sense of new regulations released by the Obama administration that purport to provide a broader opt-out for religious organizations opposed to the HHS birth control mandate.
However, conservative groups are approaching the revised rules warily, after a previous “accommodation” announced by the Obama administration was widely denounced as an accounting gimmick.
Already one pro-life leader has denounced the revision, saying it doesn’t go far enough, and the mandate should be rescinded altogether.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), responded to the release of the regulations today, saying simply that the bishops “welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely.”
“We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later,” he added.
Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, responded with a statement saying that no amount of revisions will ever render the HHS mandate acceptable.
“We at Priests for Life remind the administration that religious liberty does not just belong to religious groups and individuals; it belongs to all Americans,” he said. “Objections to contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs aren’t based just on dogmas and Bibles, but on adverse health consequences and the fact that human beings, no matter how small, should not be killed.”
“We see only one acceptable change regarding the mandate: rescind it completely,” he said.
As occurred last year when the previous “accommodation” was announced, Planned Parenthood today swiftly issued a press release welcoming the revised regulations.
“This policy delivers on the promise of women having access to birth control without co-pays no matter where they work,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. “Of course, we are reviewing the technical aspects of this proposal, but the principle is clear and consistent. This policy makes it clear that your boss does not get to decide whether you can have birth control.”
According to documents released by the Obama administration, the revised regulations will broaden the definition of religious employer by removing onerous requirements that the purpose of such organizations be primarily the “inculcation of religious values,” or that they primarily employ and serve people of the same faith.
These requirements had been widely criticized as exceedingly narrow, prompting one bishop to exclaim that “not even Jesus Christ” would meet the criteria for an opt-out.
In the revised regulations the definition of “religious employer” will be replaced with the definition included in the Internal Revenue Code.
However, the new regulations also say that, in the case of religious organizations that opt out “plan participants would receive contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies, without cost sharing or additional premiums.”
The question that will become the focal point for religious employers is how contraceptive coverage can be provided to insured at “no additional cost.”
As the Obama administration has argued in the past, the new regulations make the claim that insurance companies can afford to provide free contraceptives because contraception would lower costs of women’s health care by improving women’s health, and “few child births.”
This raises the speculation that the new regulations are again an accounting gimmick that will fail to appease the vast majority of religious employers.
What is also certain is that today’s revisions will do nothing to solve the dilemma faced by non-religious employers who nevertheless view it as a violation of their conscience to pay for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs.
Included in this class would be the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, who have vowed to risk $1.3 million a day in fines rather than comply with the mandate. Their challenge against the mandate is ongoing.
“Today, the administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “We will continue to work with faith-based organizations, women’s organizations, insurers and others to achieve these goals.”