As part of the new initiative, groups that are insured -- such as student health plans at religious colleges -- would be required to let their insurer know that certain participants would like contraception coverage. "The insurer would then notify enrollees that it is providing them with no-cost contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies," the HHS statement said. Although the agency has not estimated final costs of the plan, it said that offering free coverage would actually lower expenses over the long term, partly due to improvement in women's health and fewer childbirths. Because the insurer would be covering the costs, the changes would allow religious organizations morally opposed to contraception to avoid paying for it.
An original mandate on providing contraception was part of the new federal healthcare law spearheaded by Obama, the Affordable Care Act. It required that insurers provide, at no cost to those insured, all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Houses of worship were exempt immediately and the administration widened those exemptions last year to include other religiously affiliated organizations, like universities and hospitals. That still left groups across a wide spectrum of faiths, many of which teach that contraception is morally wrong, covered by the mandate. They denounced it as an infringement of religious liberty. A group of 43 Catholic organizations challenged the rules in federal court in May.
Not all groups characterized it as a compromise, however. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, a group that launched a federal lawsuit against the mandate last year, said he was far from happy with the update and welcomes the opportunity to provide feedback. "We at Priests for Life remind the administration that religious liberty does not just belong to religious groups and individuals; it belongs to all Americans," Pavone said. "We see only one acceptable change regarding the mandate: rescind it completely." The Family Research Council, a conservative pro-life group, released a similar statement. "The proposal does not expand religious freedom to all organizations and does nothing to change the current policy that forces religious entities to pay for insurance plans that include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraception," said Anna Higgins, director of the group's Center for Human Dignity. Full story can be found here.
"For non-profit religious organizations, this is only smoke and mirrors as the administration employs verbal engineering to make sure every woman in the country has free so-called 'contraceptives.' HHS will require every insurance company to issue a separate policy that provides 'free' contraceptives and sterilization. Using its own government staff as 'experts,' it claims that there is no net cost to insurance companies in that mandate. That is a very debatable point, but this new process is just a smoke screen to obscure the moral complicity it imposes.
"Imagine this. You are required to put bottles containing lethal prescriptions on a shelf in your break room for your employees who may take the drugs if they decide their lives are not worth living. Co-pays or deductibles are not a hindrance as the medicines are a 'free benefit' provided by your health insurance provider by order of the government. They say it will save healthcare costs.
"Are you morally complicit? Of course you are. If you hadn’t bought the insurance, they would not have had this 'lethal benefit.'
"Religious freedom advocates are not fooled by this phony accommodation. The lawsuits brought against the government—more than 40 in total—will continue to go forward. So far, the government has lost cases 10 to 4, but it is clear that the Supreme Court will make the final decision.
"Why is this important to you and me? Our religious freedom that our forefathers fought and died for is under broad attack and this is just one of the battlefronts. We dare not lose this battle or our freedom of religion will become merely a freedom to worship behind church doors. Woe to anyone who then tries to carry their conscience into the pubic square where government is god.
"And woe to us if we fail to stand up in these perilous times. With God’s help, CMDA will fight to maintain our religious freedom in the courtroom, in Congress, before the administration and in the halls of public opinion. You have my commitment on that—because we dare not do less."