John Jalsevac

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Obama admin releases revised rules for HHS mandate: met with skepticism

John Jalsevac
John Jalsevac

Updated Feb. 1, 2013 at 1:09 PM EST

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 1, 2013, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Legal analysts are scrambling today to make sense of new regulations released by the Obama administration that purport to provide a broader opt-out for religious organizations opposed to the HHS birth control mandate.

However, conservative groups are approaching the revised rules warily, after a previous “accommodation” announced by the Obama administration was widely denounced as an accounting gimmick.

Already numerous pro-life and conservative groups have slammed the revision, saying it doesn’t go far enough, and that the only solution is to rescind the mandate entirely. At the same time, one lay Catholic leader has said the revisions do appear to offer some additional protection, while the country's Catholic bishops are remaining mum as they study the revisions further. 

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), responded to the release of the revised regulations today, saying simply that the bishops “welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely.”

“We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later,” he added. 

Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, responded with a statement saying that no amount of revisions will ever render the HHS mandate acceptable. 

“We at Priests for Life remind the administration that religious liberty does not just belong to religious groups and individuals; it belongs to all Americans,” he said. “Objections to contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs aren’t based just on dogmas and Bibles, but on adverse health consequences and the fact that human beings, no matter how small, should not be killed.”

“We see only one acceptable change regarding the mandate: rescind it completely,” he said.

However, according to Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, the new rules "appear to go a long way toward rectifying the most problematic provisions of the mandate," at least as it relates to religious employers.

"Essentially, the rules provide insularity for Catholic institutions: they will not be directly involved in providing health insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs," he said.

However, Donohue also pointed out that "still unresolved" is the issue of private employers who object to the mandate.

As occurred last year when the previous “accommodation” was announced, Planned Parenthood today swiftly issued a press release welcoming the revised regulations.

“This policy delivers on the promise of women having access to birth control without co-pays no matter where they work,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. “Of course, we are reviewing the technical aspects of this proposal, but the principle is clear and consistent. This policy makes it clear that your boss does not get to decide whether you can have birth control.”

NARAL Pro-choice America also chimed in with its approval of the revised mandate. 

According to documents released by the Obama administration, the revised regulations will broaden the definition of religious employer by removing onerous requirements that the purpose of such organizations be primarily the “inculcation of religious values,” or that they primarily employ and serve people of the same faith.

These requirements had been widely criticized as exceedingly narrow, prompting one cardinal to exclaim that “not even Jesus” would meet the criteria for an opt-out.

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In the revised regulations the definition of “religious employer” will be replaced with the considerably broader definition included in the Internal Revenue Code.

“Today, the administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today in releasing the new rules. “We will continue to work with faith-based organizations, women’s organizations, insurers and others to achieve these goals.”

However, the new regulations also make clear that, in the case of religious organizations that opt out, “plan participants would receive contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies, without cost sharing or additional premiums.”

The question that will become the focal point for religious employers is how contraceptive coverage can be provided to their employees at “no additional cost.” 

As the Obama administration has argued in the past, the new regulations make the claim that insurance companies can afford to provide free contraceptives because contraception will lower costs of women’s health care by improving women’s health in undefined ways, and by ensuring that there are “fewer child births.” 

This raises the spectre that the new regulations may again be an accounting gimmick that will fail to appease the majority of religious employers. The previous "accomodation" had placed the onus for providing contraception coverage on the insurance company used by the religious employer. However, religious leaders had responded by pointing out that their insurance companies would merely offset the costs of the contraception coverage by increasing the price of coverage to make up the difference.

What is also certain is that today’s revisions will do nothing to solve the dilemma faced by private employers who view it as a violation of their conscience to pay for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs.

Included in this class would be the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, who have vowed to risk $1.3 million a day in fines rather than comply with the mandate. Their challenge against the mandate is ongoing.

The decision to issue the revised rules is no doubt an attempt to quell the extremely heated public debate over the HHS mandate, which has resulted in close to 50 lawsuits filed by hundreds of employers - both religious and private. 

Several religious leaders have advocated civil disobedience as a response to the mandate, while others have vowed that they are willing to go to jail if necessary to oppose it.

DEVELOPING...


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Quebec groups launch court challenge to euthanasia bill

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

As announced when the Quebec legislature adopted Bill 52, An Act respecting end-of-life care, the citizen movement Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing together over 650 physicians and 17,000 citizens, filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec in the District of Montreal on Thursday.

The lawsuit requests that the Court declare invalid all the provisions of the Act that deal with “medical aid in dying”, a term the groups say is a euphemism for euthanasia. This Act not only allows certain patients to demand that a physician provoke their death, but also grants physicians the right to cause the death of these patients by the administration of a lethal substance.

The two organizations are challenging the constitutionality of those provisions in the Act which are aimed at decriminalizing euthanasia under the euphemism “medical aid in dying”. Euthanasia constitutes a culpable homicide under Canada’s Criminal Code, and the organizations maintain that it is at the core of the exclusive federal legislative power in relation to criminal law and Quebec therefore does not have the power to adopt these provisions.

The organizations also say the impugned provisions unjustifiably infringe the rights to life and to security of patients guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They further infringe the right to the safeguard of the dignity of the person, which is also protected by the Quebec Charter.

In view of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need to protect all vulnerable persons in Quebec, they are requesting an accelerated management of the case in order to obtain a judgment before the Act is expected to come into force on December 10, 2015.


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Colorado baker appeals gvmt ‘re-education’ order

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

A Colorado cake artist who declined to use his creative talents to promote and endorse a same-sex ceremony appealed a May 30 order from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to the Colorado Court of Appeals Wednesday.

The commission’s order requires cake artist Jack Phillips and his staff at Masterpiece Cakeshop to create cakes for same-sex celebrations, forces him to re-educate his staff that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act means that artists must endorse all views, compels him to implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and requires him to file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years. The reports must include the number of patrons declined a wedding cake or any other product and state the reason for doing so to ensure he has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

“Americans should not be forced by the government – or by another citizen – to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said the cake artist’s lead counsel Nicolle Martin, an attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “This is not about the people who asked for a cake; it’s about the message the cake communicates. Just as Jack doesn’t create baked works of art for other events with which he disagrees, he doesn’t create cake art for same-sex ceremonies regardless of who walks in the door to place the order.”

“In America, we don’t force artists to create expression that is contrary to their convictions,” added Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “A paint artist who identifies as homosexual shouldn’t be intimidated into creating a painting that celebrates one-man, one-woman marriage. A pro-life photographer shouldn’t be forced to work a pro-abortion rally. And Christian cake artists shouldn’t be punished for declining to participate in a same-sex ceremony or promote its message.”

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In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting about 30 seconds, Phillips politely declined, explaining that he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted but that he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith. Craig and Mullins, now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case now goes to the Colorado Court of Appeals as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig.

“Jack, and other cake artists like him – such as those seen on TV shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Cake Boss’ – prepare unique creations that are inherently expressive,” Tedesco explained. “Jack invests many hours in the wedding cake creative process, which includes meeting the clients, designing and sketching the cake, and then baking, sculpting, and decorating it. The ACLU calls Jack a mere ‘retail service provider,’ but, in fact, he is an artist who uses his talents and abilities to create expression that the First Amendment fully protects."

Celebrity cake artists have written publicly about their art and the significant expressive work that goes into the artistic design process for wedding cakes.


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Prisoner of conscience Mary Wagner appeals her conviction

Tony Gosgnach
By Tony Gosgnach

TORONTO -- As promised, Mary Wagner has, through her counsel Dr. Charles Lugosi, filed a formal notice of appeal on numerous points regarding her recent, almost two-year-long court case that ended on June 12.

Justice Fergus O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice rejected every application made by the defence – including for access to abortion center records, public funding, standing for a constitutional challenge and for expert witnesses to be heard – before he found Wagner guilty and sentenced her to five months in jail on a charge of mischief and four months on four counts of failing to comply with probation orders.

He further levied two years of probation, with terms that she stay at least 100 metres away from any abortion site. However, because Wagner had spent a greater time in jail than the sentence, she was freed immediately. She had been arrested at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto on August 15, 2012 after attempting to speak to abortion-bound women there. She then spent the duration of the trial in prison for refusing to sign bail conditions requiring her to stay away from abortion sites.

Wagner is using the matter as a test case to challenge the current definition of a human being in Canadian law – that is, that a human being is legally recognized as such only after he or she has fully emerged from the birth canal in a breathing state.

Wagner’s notice states the appeal is regarding:

  • Her conviction and sentence on a single count of mischief (interference with property),
  • Her conviction and sentence on four counts of breach of probation,
  • The order denying public funding,
  • The order denying the disclosure of third-party records,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts on the applicant’s constitutional challenge concerning the constitutional validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts concerning the construction of Section 37 of the Criminal Code,
  • The probation order denying Wagner her constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on all public sidewalks and public areas within 100 metres of places where abortions are committed,
  • And each conviction and sentence and all orders and rulings made by O’Donnell.

In the notice of appeal, Lugosi cites numerous points on which O’Donnell erred:

  • He denied Wagner her constitutional right to make full answer and defence.
  • He denied Wagner her right to rely on Section 37 of the Criminal Code, which permits “everyone” to come to the third-party defence and rescue of any human being (in this case, the preborn) facing imminent assault.
  • He decided the factual basis of Wagner’s constitutional arguments was a waste of the court’s time and that no purpose would have been served by having an evidentiary hearing on her Charter application because, in the current state of Canadian law, it had no possibility of success.
  • He misapplied case law and prejudged the case, “giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and impeding the legal evolution of the law to adapt to new circumstances, knowledge and changed societal values and morals.”
  • He accepted the Crown’s submission that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to question the jurisdiction of Parliament legally to define “human being” in any manner Parliament sees fit.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code is not beyond the powers of Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code does not violate the Preamble to, as well as Sections 7, 11(d), 15 and 26, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • He denied Wagner standing to raise a constitutional challenge to the validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code.
  • He ruled that Section 223 of the Criminal Code applied generally throughout the entire Criminal Code and used it to deny unborn human beings the benefit of equal protection as born human beings under Section 37 of the Criminal Code.
  • He denied the production and disclosure of third-party records in the possession of the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site, although the records were required to prove Wagner was justified in using reasonable force in the form of oral and written words to try to persuade pregnant mothers from killing their unborn children by abortion.
  • He denied Wagner the defence of Section 37 of the Criminal Code by ruling unborn children did not come within the scope of human beings eligible to be protected by a third party.
  • He ruled Wagner did not come within the scope of Section 37 because she was found to be non-violent (in that she did not use physical force).
  • He ruled the unborn children Wagner was trying to rescue were not under her protection.
  • He denied Wagner the common-law defences of necessity and the rescue of third parties in need of protection.
  • He denied Wagner public funding to make full answer and defence for a constitutional test case of great public importance and national significance.
  • He imposed an unconstitutional sentence upon Wagner by, in effect, imposing an injunction as a condition of probation, contrary to her constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

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Among the orders Lugosi is seeking are:

  • That an appeal be allowed against conviction on all counts and that a verdict of acquittal be entered on all counts,
  • That Section 223 of the Criminal Code be found unconstitutional  and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as well as the unwritten constitution of Canada,
  • That the sentence be declared unconstitutional and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the unwritten constitution of Canada or that a new trial be conducted, with Wagner permitted to make full answer and defence, be given standing to make a constitutional attack on Section 223 of the Criminal Code, with the admission of expert witnesses,
  • That the Women’s Care Clinic abortion site be made to produce third-party records pertaining to patients seen on August 15, 2012 (when Wagner entered the site),
  • And that there be public funding for two defence counsels at any retrial and for any appeal related to the case.

No date has yet been established for a decision on the appeal or hearings.

A defence fund for Wagner’s case is still raising money. Details on how to contribute to it can be found here.


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