(CNSNews.com) – Catholic, pro-life, and religious liberty leaders denounced the latest revised rule by the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) concerning mandated coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs, stating that it is an “accounting gimmick,” an “accounting shell game,” which will “do practically nothing to lessen President Obama’s attack on religious freedom.”
The HHS mandate, as it stands under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), requires nearly all health insurance plans to offer sterilizations, contraceptives, and abortion-inducing drugs, such as “ella,” without co-pays. Strictly religious entities, such as a church or seminary, could exempt themselves from the mandate.
In its slightly revised rule proposal, announced Friday, the HHS expanded that exemption to include non-profit religious organizations. But the proposal did not address individuals who may object to the rule, and it still would require the health insurance plans to offer the contraceptive and sterilization coverage in a separate policy.
In a statement, the Catholic Association said, "The HHS mandate announcement today changes nothing, it is just another accounting gimmick and the HHS mandate continues to be a violation of civil rights, religious freedom and First Amendment rights. Catholic institutions and other faith-based organizations, including hospitals and universities and private employers, still do not get their First Amendment rights back and are still being forced to either violate their faith or pay crippling government fines for practicing their faith."
Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, said, “Today’s phony compromise from Health and Human Services only serves to illustrate the problem with Obamacare. The Obama administration is trying to gerrymander the regulations but continues to leave most Americans without their Constitutional freedoms.”
“The regulation is clear that the Obama administration’s intent is to limit religious liberty to houses of worship,” said Yoest. “Meanwhile, Christian universities, for-profit businesses -- like the Bible publisher Tyndale and Hobby Lobby -- or individuals are still forced to subsidize Big Abortion. The Obama administration’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) violates the First Amendment Conscience rights of Americans, and that must be stopped.”
The activist group CatholicVote.org explained that the HHS proposed rule would still require the following:
“Conscience-minded business owners with more than 50 employees will continue to be forced to pay for coverage for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization procedures. … Pro-life organizations, schools or charities which are not explicitly religious will still be forced to pay for abortion inducing drugs if they have more than 50 employees. … The new rules provide NO options for private individuals who seek insurance coverage that respects their conscience.”
As for what would change, some religious non-profits – schools, hospitals, and charities – can opt out but “in name only,” said CatholicVote.org in an e-mail. “The proposal will allow some of our Catholic colleges, hospitals, and charities to provide coverage that exempts these immoral medicines – BUT – the same insurance company will step in and provide the objectionable services to their employees for free.”
“By raising a religious objection, some faith-based institutions can now avoid directly paying the insurance company for objectionable medicines and procedures, yet the premiums they pay will go straight to an insurance company that will create a separate policy that will cover the very things these religious employers believe are wrong,” said the e-mail.
“Likewise, self-insured plans like those used by many dioceses and large faith-based groups will be forced to cover their eyes while their plan ‘Administrator’ does the same thing,” said CatholicVote.org.
Carrie Severino, an attorney with the Judicial Crisis Network, said in a statement, "Today's proposed regulation is no solution at all and is just a rehashing of the same accounting shell game roundly rejected when it was first proposed last year. Catholic charities along with religious hospitals and universities are not exempt and are faced with the horrible choice of either violating their deeply held religious beliefs of pay crippling fines that would hurt their ability to serve.”
“The proposed regulation also continues to leave individual business-owners out in the cold, consistent with the administration's litigation position that the very individuals working to grow our economy must leave their First Amendment religious freedoms at the door,” she said.
“The lack of genuine accommodation suggests that the only reason for today's announcement was to alleviate growing concerns from the courts that the government has been using its nebulous future rule as a delay tactic in litigation,” said Severino. “In fact, the proposed mechanism of forcing third-party insurers to provide the contested coverage will likely give rise to a new wave of lawsuits as it appears to be completely devoid of statutory or constitutional basis.”
Lila Rose, president of the pro-life group Live Action, also said in a statement, “Today's proposed rules by the administration do practically nothing to lessen President Obama's attack on religious freedom. Catholic institutions and other religious hospitals, universities and private employers are still being forced to either violate their beliefs or pay crippling government fines for practicing their faith."
"This extreme government intrusion is not only a violation of the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans, it is also a vehicle for continued record funding for the abortion industry by the Obama administration," said Rose.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has, along with his fellow bishops, denounced the HHS mandate as “unjust and illegal” and a “violation of personal civil rights.”
Concerning today’s proposal by HHS, Card. Dolan said, “Today, the Administration issued proposed regulations regarding the HHS mandate. We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”Kyle Duncan, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said on a conference call, “After over a year of litigation, our clients and many others like them were hoping for much, much more from the administration.” He added that the HHS proposal ”does nothing to protect the religious liberty of millions of Americans.”