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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Nuns Must Have Birth Control Coverage



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See Correction Below:

The Obama Administration has really pulled a fast one. In its proposed rule to supposedly provide greater protections to non house of worship religious organizations opposed to contraception, it actually ensures that contraception coverage will be provided to all religious employees–whether house of worship, convent, or school.  In other words, the proposed rule expands the government’s intrusion into religious affairs, rather than reduce it.

Here’s how they plan to do it:

1. From now on no distinction will be made in the rule between “house of worship” employers and general religious organization employers. In order to be exempted from the requirement of providing free contraception, sterilization, and (possibly) abortifacients, under the current rule, the non profit had to be, essentially, a house of worship or a monastic community. That requirement will be deleted.  Under the proposed rule, all bona fide non profit religious organizations will be treated the same. From the Notice of Proposed Rule Making:

For purposes of these proposed rules only, the Departments propose to define an eligible organization as an organization that meets all of the following criteria:  The organization opposes providing coverage for some or all of the contraceptive services required to be covered under section 2713 of the PHS Act on account of religious objections.The organization is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity.The organization holds itself out as a religious organization. The organization self-certifies that it satisfies the first three criteria, as described later in this section.   

On the surface, that would seem better, since the rule will make no distinction between Sisters of Mercy as an order and the Sisters of Mercy High School. That would be true if the exemption originally granted to houses of worship allowing them to not cover birth control at all, had been expanded to include organizations such as charities and schools. But that isn’t what the government is proposing at all.  

2. The existing total exemption for houses of worship, etc., has been eliminated. There used to be two tiers of religious organizations under the rule. The first–houses of worship–were completely exempted from having their employees covered for free birth control. The second, religious organizations, were not exempted. That’s what set off the brouhaha. Now all qualifying religious organizations receive the same accommodation. But it is not an exemption..

3. The Health Insurance Company Must Pay for Birth Control for All Religious Employees: From the text:

These proposed rules aim to provide women with contraceptive coverage without cost sharing and to protect eligible organizations from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds…[T]hese proposed rules would provide that, in the case of an insured group health plan established or maintained by an eligible organization, the health insurance issuer providing group coverage in connection with the plan would assume sole responsibility, independent of the eligible organization and its plan, for providing contraceptive coverage without cost sharing, premium, fee, or other charge to plan participants and beneficiaries…

The issuer would automatically enroll plan participants and beneficiaries in a separate individual health insurance policy that covers recommended contraceptive services

So, let’s say that the Sisters of Mercy have 150 employees. They must receive birth control coverage. They just don’t pay for it. But simply by being covered with health insurance, their carrier will be required to automatically enroll all employees for birth control under a separate policy on the corporate dime.

Thus, nuns will have birth control coverage whether they like it or not, and a private company will be forced to provide the coverage to religious organizations for free, coverage they can charge for in other contexts. A double dose of authoritarianism. 

I will be looking more deeply into this and writing at greater length. But it seems to me that the Obama Administration has used the contraception controversy to extend its cultural imperialism deeper into the religious realm. 

Update and Correction: I have now had a chance to scour the proposal more thoroughly. Because it is only stated by reference to a tax code section, I made a mistake when said the old narrow exemption was being killed. It still applies. The “accommodation” will be imposed on all other objecting religious organizations, and it triggers free birth control simply by the organization buying health insurance as required by the Affordable Care Act. This means, among other thing, that as I stated above, in many cases, nuns will have to be covered for birth control. No way to opt out for any religious organization not otherwise exempt other than to break the law and not purchase health insurance. 



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