The latest round of proposed federal rules covering religious institutions seeking an exemption from a requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in health insurance makes it clear that there is no inclination at the Department of Health and Human Services to accommodate for-profit secular corporations in the same way as nonprofit religious institutions. For-profit secular entities that object to this requirement on moral grounds may find their only option is to push their case in court, where the history of accommodating a business owner’s religious interests differs significantly from the way the religious rights of churches have been treated.
An updated version of the H.H.S. rules published on Feb. 1 redefined the criteria by which nonprofit religious institutions may be either “exempt” or “accommodated” in opting out of new mandates. The Affordable Care Act requires all health care insurance plans to include coverage—at no cost to the employees—of contraception, sterilization and drugs some consider to be abortifacients. The new proposal is the latest H.H.S. effort to define who qualifies to opt out of that requirement on religious grounds.
“I think the final resolution will be with the courts,” said Cardinal Francis George, speaking in Rome on Feb. 7. “The bishops have made it very clear that the institutions for which we are responsible simply will not cooperate, and then it will be up to the government to decide what it wants to do, and I think that’s where we are and that’s where we will stay.”
More than 30 lawsuits challenging the previous round of the rules have been filed by nonprofits including Catholic dioceses, universities and the Eternal Word Television Network. Most of those cases await decisions. The courts have granted injunctions allowing 11 companies to sidestep the mandate while their cases proceed in court. Three companies have been told they must comply with providing contraceptive insurance while their cases proceed.
In a statement on Feb. 7, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, said the latest revision of the mandate fell short of addressing the U.S. bishops’ concerns. The cardinal acknowledged that the latest proposal concerning the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act indicates that the Obama administration “seeks to offer a response to serious matters which have been raised throughout the past year.”
He noted that the bishops “look forward to engaging with the administration, and all branches and levels of government, to continue to address serious issues that remain. Our efforts will require additional, careful study.”
He added, “We will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks.”
Cardinal Dolan faulted the latest revision for maintaining an “inaccurate distinction among religious ministries,” noting that H.H.S. “offers what it calls an ‘accommodation,’ rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches.” Cardinal Dolan said “gaps in the proposed regulations” make it unclear “how directly these separate policies would be funded by objecting ministries, and what precise role those ministries would have in arranging for these separate policies.” This lack of clarity, he said, provides “the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities.”