The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a statement Thursday expressing concern with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) recent proposed update to the anti-conscience mandate in Obamacare.
As Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, explained:
[The proposal] appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education and Catholic charities. HHS offers what it calls an “accommodation” rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches.
The Administration’s proposal makes a slight change to the mandate’s religious exemption, but it would still allow only formal houses of worship and their integrated auxiliaries a reprieve from the mandate. Countless other employers—hospitals, social service agencies, businesses, and many others—would still be forced to provide abortion drugs and contraception coverage in their employee health plans.
The Administration has also outlined an update to its proposed “accommodation” for employers who don’t qualify for the narrow religious exemption. This so-called fix would only apply to certain religious nonprofit organizations, leaving many others—such as business owners, individuals, and non-religious nonprofits—without any recourse from the mandate.
Notably, business owners are explicitly excluded from the proposed accommodation. The Administration stated last Friday that it does “not propose that the definition of eligible organization extend to for-profit secular employers.” This means businesses such as Tyndale House, the nation’s largest Bible publisher, or Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts retailer, would still be forced to fund coverage of drugs in violation of their beliefs.
“In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath,” explained Cardinal Dolan about this untenable situation. “We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.”
Even for those employers that would qualify for the “accommodation,” the updated proposal fails to resolve the original mandate’s religious liberty problems and only creates new chaos in the insurance marketplace.
To avoid a real resolution to the religious liberty problem—by rescinding the mandate—the Administration has proposed that insurance companies be forced to “automatically” enroll “all plan participants and beneficiaries”—possibly including employees’ minor children—in cost-free coverage of abortion drugs and contraception and notify the same of the new coverage.
The Administration’s proposal would create a new type of insurance product that covers only abortion drugs and contraception. Insurance companies of objecting religious employers would then be forced to do economic back flips to provide that newly created product “for free.”
This week’s USCCB statement echoed these and many other problems with the Administration’s updated proposed accommodation. Still, with 46 lawsuits on behalf of over 130 plaintiffs currently being litigated against the HHS mandate—many of them by Catholic institutions—the bishops have not given up hope of attaining true protection of religious freedom.
“[W]e will continue to stand united with brother bishops, religious institutions, and individual citizens who seek redress in the courts for as long as this is necessary,” wrote Cardinal Dolan.
With the Administration persisting in its unwillingness to fully protect Americans’ first freedom, the bishops’ and many others’ resolve to stand united for robust religious liberty is more urgent than ever.
Sarah Torre focuses on policy issues related to religious liberty, marriage and family as research assistant in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.