HHS Mandate: Where Do Things Stand?
Religion & Liberty Online

HHS Mandate: Where Do Things Stand?

According to the Becket Fund, there are currently 44 active cases against the Obama administration’s HHS mandate requiring employers to include abortion, sterilization and abortifacients as “health care”. There have been 14 for-profit companies that have filed suit; 11 of those have received temporary injunctions against implementing the mandate.

Hobby Lobby‘s case was denied (as were Autocam‘s and Conestoga Wood Specialties‘.) Hobby Lobby has filed an appeal:

“Hobby Lobby will continue their appeal before the Tenth Circuit,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing Hobby Lobby in the case. “The Supreme Court merely decided not to get involved in the case at this time. It left open the possibility of review after their appeal is completed in the Tenth Circuit.”

Duncan said Hobby Lobby will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees.

However, to remain true to their faith, Duncan added, “it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.

On January 20, the Department of Health & Human Services released a statement amending the mandate:

After evaluating comments, we have decided to add an additional element to the final rule. Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law. Employers wishing to take advantage of the additional year must certify that they qualify for the delayed implementation. This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule.  We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support.  We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.

There is much debate as to what will be required by employers and who will pay for mandated services and medications; the White House says there will be third-party administrators for those religious organizations that do not want to offer these. These revisions would cover only a small group of employers; for-profit companies would still be forced to comply.

Philadelphia’s Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput has called the White House’s compromise “phony” and “minimalist”. Further, he noted that the mandate,

betrays a complete lack of understanding of both religious liberty and religious conscience,” and that “the government has forced a needless and completely avoidable confrontation and has knowingly put many religious believers in an impossible situation.

Juicy Ecumenism responded to the accommodations as well, saying they were “exceedingly narrow” and “insubstantial”. In addition, Helen Alvare calls into question the government’s entire premise for offering free contraception and abortion,

At no time has the government publicly addressed the data indicating that free contraception and abortifacients have not delivered the social results they claim to seek—fewer unintended pregnancies and abortion.

Clearly, the fight for religious liberty is far from over. The Obama administration needs to allow all Americans the ability to exercise their religious beliefs, and not hide behind half-hearted attempts at compromise.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.