New ObamaCare Rules Will Give Broad Exemptions to Religious Employers… but They’re Still Not Happy

Under ObamaCare, churches are already off the hook for covering things like contraception for their employees. They don’t have to do it.

But what about companies like Hobby Lobby, that are owned by religious people?

What about religious universities like Wheaton College? Do they have to cover birth control for their faculty members?

Yesterday, the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced the final version of a compromise between non-profit religious groups and the government:

In short: Religious employers at non-profits (like religious colleges) would not have to pay for things like birth control which they (wrongly) think causes abortions. But their employees would still receive free access to contraception through a third-party insurance provider. So women wouldn’t have to suffer just because their employers want to push their religious views on everyone who works for them.

Sounds like, well, a compromise.

So why are religious groups so upset? The New York Times put it succinctly:

Under the rule, women are to have access to contraceptives without any premium, deductible, co-payment or other fees.

Some religious employers do not want their employees to have coverage of contraceptives, even if someone else pays for it.

Under this [compromise], a nonprofit religious employer must notify its insurer that it objects to contraceptive coverage. The insurer must then notify people in the health plan that it will arrange or pay for contraceptive services as long as they remain in the health plan.

That’s like a vegetarian boss getting mad because someone just offered everyone in the office gift certificates to the Olive Garden.

Anna Higgins of the Family Research Council thinks this new rule is a violation of her rights… somehow:

“Family Research Council strongly opposes the latest regulation that continues to mandate that life-ending drugs and contraceptive services be covered, with no copay, by health plans of businesses and organizations that have serious moral and religious objections. The accounting gimmick HHS continues to require fails to satisfy the religious freedom protections that exist in other current laws and in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

So she’s upset because religious employers will still have to indirectly cover women’s health, because their insurers will let women know they still have access to contraception even if the employers won’t pay for it.

Meanwhile, the Secular Coalition for America is pissed off because this lets religious employers get off easy:

“This disappointing rule change sets a terrible precedent for religious interference in individual choice,” said Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. “This exemption gives employers the ability to impose their particular religious beliefs on employees, infringing on the religious freedom of potentially millions of Americans.”

Hobby Lobby, not a non-profit and therefore not part of the new exemptions, is still suing to make sure their employees have no access to contraception whatsoever. While an Appeals Court has said they don’t have to pay a fine for the time being, I absolutely loved this line from one of the judges:

“Hobby Lobby and Mardel have drawn a line at providing coverage for drugs or devices they consider to induce abortions, and it is not for us to question whether the line is reasonable,” the judges wrote. “The question here is not whether the reasonable observer would consider the plaintiffs complicit in an immoral act, but rather how the plaintiffs themselves measure their degree of complicity.”

Paraphrased: These people believe things that make no sense at all… but their level of delusion isn’t on trial here.

At least the ACLU is supportive of the new rules:

“Today’s announcement is a win for civil liberties,” said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, American Civil Liberties Union policy counsel. “With this rule, the administration continues to stand by women and our families and refuses to let employers use religion to discriminate. As the fight over the contraception rule moves through the courts, the ACLU will continue to stand up for the right to make decisions about birth control based on our own beliefs, not our bosses’.”

Some religious employers won’t be satisfied until they have complete control over the sex lives of their employees. The Obama administration may have given religious groups more exemptions than they deserve, but they’re making sure women employed by religious fanatics in non-profits and hospitals and schools aren’t subject to archaic, harmful ideas of what health care should be limited to. We can celebrate that without giving them a pat on the back over how they achieved it.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.