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.