Conscience Be Damned; the Obama Administration Makes HHS Rule Final

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Still using words like “houses of worship” and pretending to carve out religious-liberty accommodations for some religiously affiliated non-profits, the Department of Health and Human Services issued its final abortion-drug, contraception, (female) sterilization employer insurance mandate today.

It appears that the Obama administration’s disregard for Americans’ conscience rights has been formalized by the rule. 

It extends the safe harbor that was to expire on August 1 to those non-profits through January, which, since most plans don’t start until at least then, isn’t much news.

By HHS count, they received over 400,000 comments on this previously proposed rule, but were clearly not moved by the pleas. Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund calls it “more of the same.” If you provide insurance, you have to provide employees the means to an abortion end. It’s about facilitating the obtaining an abortion. The government says employers have to, period, he said on a call just now.

“On multiple levels, the president is articulating what is arguably the most narrow view of religious freedom ever expressed by an administration in this nation’s history, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor says in a statement. 

“Unfortunately the final rule announced today is the same old, same old. As we said when the proposed rule was issued, this doesn’t solve the religious conscience problem because it still makes our non-profit clients the gatekeepers to abortion and provides no protection to religious businesses” he says in a statement. “The easy way to resolve this would have been to exempt sincere religious employers completely, as the Constitution requires. Instead this issue will have to be decided in court.”

The initial problems remain; Becket’s release continues:

  • Non-profit religious employers are still dragooned into acting as gatekeepers to abortion
  • Self-insured religious groups must hire administrators that pay for abortifacients and contraceptives
  • Religious business owners still have to provide abortion-inducing drugs or pay up to millions of dollars in fines

“When it comes to religious liberty, the Department of Health and Human Services is acting like a kid who doesn’t want to eat his lima beans. Our Constitution and laws require them to protect religious exercise, but they really don’t want to, so they are trying every trick in the book to avoid doing so. But we will keep suing until the courts make HHS comply with its obligations.”

On Wednesday, President Obama said that “maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital.” He said that: “How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.” Forgive me for having very little confidence on this front, given this continuing HHS mandate charade. A priest on a secular campus, even if employed by a Catholic diocese, will likely have some legal trouble in his future, the way this is all going. (And we’ve already seen hints of the cultural posture that will lead there. And don’t expect retreat centers to be safe, either.)

The administration’s position in this abortion/contraception/sterilization HHS mandate controversy appears to be, and consistently, since January 2012, and the summer before and in the roots of the regulation in an abortion-industry dream of a panel: Women’s health and freedom absolutely, fundamentally requires ready and covered access to abortion and contraception and sterilization (sorry, guys, you’re not covered). Religious folk with objections are wrong, and we’ll pretend to let them off the hook with a little sliding of the hand, but they’ve got to get their employees to abortion-pill and contraception coverage, because that’s good and their teachings aren’t.

Conveniently brought to you by the graduate of a Catholic college as HHS secretary …. 

“The fundamental problem here is that the government has no business deciding who is religious enough to qualify for their exemption,” Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, who has sponsored conscience-protection legislation in the House (first introduced before this HHS mandate controversy blew up), tells National Review Online in response to today’s rule finalization. ”This is a matter of deeply-held principle, the right of conscience, and religious freedom. The government should be upholding these essential rights, not coercing people to act against them.”

But here we are. Employers with religious objections to abortion, contraception, sterilization have no religious-freedom claim in the eyes of the Obama administration, despite pleas, despite good-faith discussions, despite assurances by the administration. 

And, yes, the president and the vice president insisted this problem was all solved before their reelection. They lied. Because in this world of increased secularization and sexual revolutionary values, some churches’ teachings on human dignity have no place in the public square (the public square including evangelical schools, Catholic hospitals, religious soup kitchens). Or so the goverment mandates. 

UPDATE: Don’t take my word for it, Planned Parenthood enthusiastically supports today’s final rule. They were in the room for the first crafting of an “accommodation” proposal and they were always going to be pleased, it seems. From a tweet just now: 

Good to know who is in charge.

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