HHS Mandate: Courts Will Have Final Call

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.

Advertisement

“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.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tom Schneck
5 years 3 months ago
The depth of hostility of the Obama administration towards religion is amazing. The NY Times of 2/20 reports that FEMA originally denied use of the $60B in Hurricane Sandy disaster relief funds for rebuilding or repairing houses of religion that were damaged. The report states that the House has approved a bill allowing reconstruction aid. There is no more governmental entanglement in religion here than when the fire department responds to save a burning church. Of course, the ACLU is reported to oppose such aid and Senate action on the bill is uncertain. It is a shame that houses of worship that helped victims of Hurricane Sandy cannot themselves be helped by relief funds that are provided to all others, according to FEMA. It seems to me that there is governmental discrimination against religion and religious institutions, as with the original HHS regulations now being amended.
Jennifer Smith
5 years 3 months ago
The previous comment is untrue. http://m.christianpost.com/news/house-passes-bill-allowing-fema-disaster-aid-for-churches--90094/
ed gleason
5 years 3 months ago
"The depth of hostility TO the Obama administration is amazing" Thank God our separated brethren had time to get Congress to pass a bill overriding a low level bureaucratic ruling. Our USCCB was too busy parsing "fungible' .

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018
The coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII is seen during a ceremony in Vittorio Veneto Square after its arrival in Bergamo, Italy, May 24. The body of the late pope left the Vatican on May 24 to be displayed in his home region until June 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BERGAMO, Italy (CNS) — Accompanied by Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo and escorted by both Italian and Vatican police officers, the glass coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII left the Vatican early on May 24 for a 370-mile drive to Bergamo.

On this week's episode, we talk with Lieutenant Governor of Washington State, Cyrus Habib.
Olga SeguraMay 25, 2018