U.S.

Trump administration expands exemptions on contraceptive mandate

By Carol Zimmermann | Catholic News Service
October 11, 2017

Women religious demonstrate March 23, 2016, against the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive drugs and devices in their employee health insurance.
Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops praised the action as “a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice and peaceful coexistence between church and state.”

The contraceptive mandate was put in place by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act.

While providing an exemption for religious employers, the new rules maintain the existing federal contraceptive mandate for most employers.

President Donald Trump had pledged to lift the mandate burden placed on religious employers during a White House signing ceremony May 4 for an executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty, but Catholic leaders and the heads of a number of Catholic entities had criticized the administration for a lack of action on that pledge in the months that followed.

From the outset, churches were fully exempt from the mandate, but not religious employers. The Obama administration had put in place a religious accommodation for nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies morally opposed to contraceptive coverage that required them to file a form or notify HHS that they will not provide it. Many Catholic employers still objected to having to fill out the form.
The HHS mandate has undergone numerous legal challenges from religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life.

A combined lawsuit, Zubik v. Burwell, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices in May 2016 unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

Senior Health and Human Services officials who spoke to reporters Oct. 5 on the HHS rule on the condition of anonymity said that the exemption to the contraceptive mandate would apply to all the groups that had sued against it. Groups suing the mandate all the way to the Supreme Court include the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Eternal Word Television Network and some Catholic and other Christian universities.

In reaction immediately after the 150-page interim ruling was issued, religious groups that had opposed the mandate were pleased with the administration’s action.

An Oct. 6 statement by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the new rule “corrects an anomalous failure by federal regulators that should never have occurred and should never be repeated.”

The church leaders also said the decision to provide the religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that faith-based and mission-driven organizations and those who run them “have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect.”

Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Lori said the decision was “good news for all Americans,” noting that a “government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good.”

Topics:

  • health care
  • religious freedom

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