The Obama administration has once again modified
the rules on employers and workers’ access to free contraception but religious
voices are no happier.
On August 22, the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services released the new regulations for the mandate requiring employers
to provide insurance coverage that gives workers free access to 20 forms of
contraception. The new rules are meant to comply with a recent Supreme Court
The original mandate, issued in 2012, exempted
strictly religious organizations such as churches but did not exempt
faith-based nonprofits such as hospitals, charities and schools. Neither was
there any exemption for private for-profit business owners who object to some
or all forms of artificial birth control.
This spring, in a case brought by owners of the
Hobby Lobby craft stores and the owners of a woodcraft company, the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled that small, family-held for-profit companies must also be
Another set of lawsuits, representing religious
nonprofits such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and several faith-based
universities and charities, has yet to be argued. The Little Sisters object to
a requirement that they sign a form from HHS releasing them from instructing an
insurer to cover contraception. The nuns hold that no matter which process or
paperwork is required, they cannot facilitate any insurer providing contraception
to their employees. In their view, that would be cooperating with an evil —
artificial contraception and abortion — which are forbidden by their faith.
Almost as soon as the new rules were issued
Friday, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Hobby Lobby’s
case, slammed them as inadequate.
Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund,
said in a statement that no matter how many times (and this is
the eighth time ) the mandate is rewritten, the basic problem is
the narrowness of the exemption itself. She said the government maintains its
“original, hardline stance that only ‘houses of worship’ that hire
and serve fellow believers deserve religious freedom.”
The only groups that are exempted fully and
automatically remain those religious bodies that serve the religious needs of
people of their faith, not the faith-based groups that serve a wide population
regardless of religion.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ response
was equally stern.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky,
president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, in a statement,
posted on the USCCB Facebook page, the bishops would study the rules in depth
but were disappointed at first look.
Kurtz said “the regulations would not broaden the
‘religious employer’ exemption to encompass all employers with sincerely held
religious objections to the mandate. Instead, the regulations would only modify
the ‘accommodation,’ under which the mandate still applies and still requires
provision of the objectionable coverage.”
And because accommodations in the new rule were
only offered to the small privately held companies that were covered by the
Hobby Lobby ruling, Kurtz said, “the proposed regulations would effectively
reduce, rather than expand, the scope of religious freedom.”