Today is the last day for the Department of Health and Human Services official comment on the administration’s abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization mandate.
By way of a reminder that a religious-liberty problem remains, despite the claims of the Obama administration, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a release today in “deep appreciation” and “solidarity and appreciation” for fellow litigants seeking protection against the coercive, unnecessary attack on religious liberty.
Of those who find themselves in court, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who is chairman of the bishops’ committee on religious liberty:
Their goal is nothing less than securing the freedom of the Church to continue to obey the Lord’s command—and, in turn, to serve the common good—by providing charitable ministries in health care, education, and service to the poor, all without compromising Catholic beliefs.
Lori expressed “deep gratitude to the scores of people and organizations—from various denominations and walks of life—who have challenged the HHS mandate in federal courts around our country over the last year.”
He used the opportunity to explain why this is such a priority for the Catholic bishops: “in our Catholic tradition, the right to religious freedom proceeds from the inherent dignity of each and every human person. Accordingly, our concern for religious freedom extends well beyond our own ministries of service.”
Lori expressed particular gratitude for “those in the business sector who have courageously challenged the HHS mandate in court.”
“Their actions have been a source of encouragement, particularly because of their high rate of success in obtaining early injunctions to block the mandate,” he said.
Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon explains about the current status of the mandate:
the most recent rule does nothing for people of faith who run for-profit workplaces. The mandate continues to apply there without exception, or even the pretense of one. It is unconscionable for the federal government to force religious people to check their deeply held beliefs at the door as they enter the world of commerce. These days, our business sector needs to be informed by more moral reflection, not less.
The latest proposal also maintains an absurdly narrow exemption for “religious employers,” still omitting most institutions that are unmistakably “religious” and unmistakably “employ” people. Recent changes are only cosmetic. Even the proposed rule itself acknowledges that its changes would “not expand the universe” of exempted employers beyond their original target, mainly “houses of worship.”
Finally, the proposed “accommodation”—that is, what the government would offer instead of an actual exemption to those actual religious employers that the government refuses to recognize as such—might look good at first, but ultimately disappoints.
For “accommodated” employers, the health insurance they offer their employees need not include the objectionable services. Yet these same employees, whether they like it or not, are automatically enrolled in a separate policy that covers only sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. The rule implicates the employer because its decision to provide health coverage is necessary for the employees to get the contraceptive-only coverage; if the employer doesn’t provide the main policy, the employee doesn’t get the separate one. So the employer’s decision to provide health insurance effectively hands the employee a ticket to free coverage of drugs and procedures to which the employer has serious religious and moral objections. That’s a big problem for both insured and self-insured plans.
There’s an additional problem with insured plans. The separate contraception-only coverage costs an insurance company money, which has to come from somewhere. The proposed rule says that the money won’t come from employer premiums, but based on the government’s own theory of how the separate coverage gets financed, that’s exactly what would happen.
The National Committee for the Human Life Amendment has a convenient form here if you want to file a protest of the continuing attack on religious liberty, but don’t have the time to draft your own note.