Yesterday was the last day for official comments to be sent to the HHS Department to oppose the controversial contraception-birth control mandate that forces employers to pay for drugs that may cause abortions.
Several pro-life groups urged the Obama administration to scrap the mandate.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the US bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, released a statement after the nation’s Catholic bishops filed their official statement with the federal government opposing the mandate:
In March 2012, the USCCB’s Administrative Committee stated in “United for Religious Freedom” that the USCCB would continue its opposition to the HHS mandate through legislation, through the Executive Branch, and through the courts. Soon after, Catholic bishops went to federal court in unprecedented numbers to challenge the mandate.
As Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, I would like to express solidarity with these bishops, as well as the diocesan and other Catholic entities that have joined them as they pursue their lawsuits. Their goal is nothing less than securing the freedom of the Church to continue to obey the Lord’s command—and, in turn, to serve the common good—by providing charitable ministries in health care, education, and service to the poor, all without compromising Catholic beliefs.
I am also writing to express deep gratitude to the scores of people and organizations—from various denominations and walks of life—who have challenged the HHS mandate in federal courts around our country over the last year. We continue to pray for the success of all of these lawsuits. As we noted in the Ad Hoc Committee statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” “the vision of our founding and our Constitution… guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to our common life together.” And in our Catholic tradition, the right to religious freedom proceeds from the inherent dignity of each and every human person. Accordingly, our concern for religious freedom extends well beyond our own ministries of service.
As Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the USCCB, recently emphasized, “[i]n 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. We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.” Therefore, we express solidarity and appreciation as well for those in the business sector who have courageously challenged the HHS mandate in court. We also note that their actions have been a source of encouragement, particularly because of their high rate of success in obtaining early injunctions to block the mandate.
The latest rule proposed by HHS on February 6, 2013 would clarify the definition of a “religious employer”—which would receive a full exemption from the mandate—by reducing the previous four-part test to a one-part test. Although this small, incremental step is welcomed, most of the serious problems with the definition and mandate remain, and so we will continue our vigorous efforts to correct those remaining flaws. As Cardinal Dolan stated regarding the latest proposed rule, “we welcome and will take seriously the Administration’s invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all. At the same time, we 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.”
Catholics in America have long been advocates for religious liberty, and we continue to affirm this basic right today. We have consistently supported the rights of individuals not to act against their religious beliefs or moral convictions, especially when individuals seek to protect the dignity of human life. As Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, I would like to urge all people of good will to pray that our leaders, and all people of this great country, will promote and protect religious liberty and its fundamental place in society.
Meanwhile, the Knights of Columbus filed formal comments with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today, calling on the Administration to rescind the unpopular healthcare mandate that will force Americans of faith to cover medical services that violate their consciences without regard for their First Amendment’s rights.
The letter, signed by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, urges “the administration to rescind the mandate altogether and chart a new course.” It adds: “lf, however, the administration refuses to do so, we urge it to expand the religious exemption so that objecting individuals and organizations do not lose their conscience rights and are not forced to cooperate in actions that genuinely violate their religious beliefs and moral convictions. Our nation’s history of bipartisan respect for the consciences of its citizens instructs us to do no less.”
In the letter, the Knights noted that even with the proposed changes, the mandate still fails to protect the rights of religious believers because “individuals and entities that object to paying for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization must pay for these interventions either directly or indirectly, and they must initiate coverage for these interventions, either directly or indirectly.” It continues: “The mandate specifically fails to exempt individuals, even though the First Amendment expressly protects individual religious belief and practice. The government places itself in the untenable position of deciding that some consciences are fit for protection while others are not.”
Americans United for Life filed an extensive comment defending freedom of conscience and urging the Obama Department of Health and Human Services to rescind its coercive, anti-life mandate.
AUL complained the mandate requires nearly all private health insurance plans to provide full coverage for life-ending drugs and devices masquerading as “contraception.” Although over 150 plaintiffs have filed 52 lawsuits challenging the mandate, HHS has failed to adequately address the serious issues at hand.
“Our cherished, constitutional guarantees of freedom of conscience cannot be ‘compromised’ to advance the policy goals of the Obama Administration and its Big Abortion allies,” said AUL president Charmaine Yoest. “The threat of force, fines and destruction of people’s livelihoods should not be used against those who do not share this Administration’s view of abortion.”
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While the mandate has technically been in effect since August 1, 2012, HHS created a one-year “safe harbor” for certain religiously affiliated non-profits. On February 6, HHS published a new sham “accommodation” to take effect when the safe harbor expires.
Under the recent regulations proposed by HHS, the “accommodated” employer is, in fact, forced to facilitate the objectionable coverage by automatically enrolling plan participants and beneficiaries (without an application or enrollment process) in what HHS claims is “separate” contraceptive coverage—which includes life-ending drugs—provided by the same insurer, allegedly at no cost to the enrollees.
In its comment, AUL argues that it is a fiction to claim that the two plans are separate and distinct and that the “accommodated” employer plays “no role” in the facilitation of and payment for the coverage it objects to. Even for self-insured plans, HHS makes clear that there is no way to avoid participating in the coercive, morally offensive mandate. Also disturbing, HHS flatly refuses to allow many employers with conscientious objections to participate in its sham “accommodation.”