The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) once again urged the Obama administration “to reconsider” its new rules for religious institutions and some non-profits in ObamaCare’s HHS mandate.
“The administration continues to propose an unjust and unlawful mandate; an arbitrarily narrow exemption for houses of worship; no exemption at all for most stakeholders; and an 'accommodation' that still requires employers that fall outside the narrow government definition of 'religious employer' to facilitate the objectionable coverage,” the USCCB said in comments presented to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday.
The bishops were commenting on the latest version of the Obama administration’s “Rules on Coverage of Certain Preventive Services Under the Affordable Care Act.”
The mandate, which requires most employers to provide free contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and abortion-inducing drugs to employees through their health insurance plans, had its eighth accommodation issued by the Obama administration August 22 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision finding that the mandate as-is violates the religious freedom of some closely-held for-profit companies.
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The administration opened a 60-day public comment period the same day of its proposed “interim final rules” slightly modifying the government’s “accommodation” for nonprofit religious organizations not exempted from the mandate, and “proposed rules” on extending the accommodation to closely-held for-profit companies.
USCCB attorneys submitted comment on both proposals.
“The mandate continues to substantially burden the religious liberty of stakeholders with religious objections to the mandated coverage,” the USCCB said in its comments on the interim final rules. “Because it does not further a compelling government interest by the means least restrictive of religious exercise, the mandate continues to violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
The USCCB said that the interim final rules do not change the mandate itself, or its exceedingly narrow exemption, offered mainly to churches but not social service and other religious organizations.
“The interim final rules make no change in the underlying mandate,” the U.S. bishops said. “For reasons discussed more fully in our earlier comments, we continue to believe that the contraceptive mandate should be rescinded.”
“Unlike other 'preventive services,' prescription contraceptives do not 'prevent' disease, the bishops said. “Instead, they disrupt the healthy functioning of the human reproductive system, temporarily or permanently creating the condition of infertility commonly seen as a health problem.”
The USCCB statement also said the rules do not provide for religious freedom.
“For the overwhelming majority of stakeholders, the interim final rules offer not even a gesture in the direction of conscience protection—neither the exemption, nor even the accommodation,” it said.
The U.S. Catholic bishops said that the interim final rules’ new alternative way for non-exempt religious groups to comply with the “accommodation” still forces employers to enable contraceptive coverage, by directly supplying the government with “all it needs” to authorize and require the employer’s insurer or third-party administrator to provide or arrange for the very payments to which the employer objects.
“The interim final rules retain a regulatory scheme in which 'preventive' health services are defined to include items that do not prevent disease, but rather are intended to render a woman temporarily or permanently infertile, and may be associated with adverse health outcomes,” the USCCB said.
In its comments on the proposed rules regarding for-profit companies, the USCCB said the proposal actually “makes the current situation worse for closely-held for-profit organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage,” because these organizations are currently exempt under RFRA, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently held with Hobby Lobby.
The “accommodation,” as modified by the interim final rules, is insufficient to protect the religious liberty of organizations that are eligible for it,” the bishops said, and, “the proposed rules do nothing to help other stakeholders with religious or moral objections to the mandate.”