Bishops threaten lawsuit over HHS mandate

It may only be seven sentences long, but I was happy to see this Associated Press report briefly explaining that U.S. Roman Catholic bishops have formally rejected the Obama administration’s proposed modifications to the Health and Human Services rule requiring employers to provide health insurance that covers free contraception, abortion drugs and sterilization:

The bishops said in a statement Tuesday to Health and Human Services that the prospective new rules don’t do enough to protect religious liberty.

The mandate requires employers to provide health insurance that includes birth control for workers. The plan sparked protests from faith leaders because it included most religious nonprofits such as hospitals and colleges.

President Barack Obama offered a compromise. He said insurers would bear the cost of the birth control instead of religious employers. However, the bishops argue that the compromise still makes their insurance plans a conduit for contraceptives.

The Associated Press links to the bishops’ comments, helpfully. I read them, although sleep deprived, I didn’t see anything suggesting the modification goes in the right direction but not far enough. It seemed to me that the bishops were saying that they do nothing at all to allay the moral concerns they have with the mandate. It does seem like an important distinction to me.

It’s also interesting to see how different news outlets covered the same formal objection. Kaiser Health News ran the headline and lede to four stories, including the Associated Press. The difference is really interesting. The AP headline, for what it’s worth, was “Bishops Reject Softened Birth Control Rule.” Here are the others:

National Journal: Bishops Make Birth Control Opposition Official (Again)
U.S. Catholic bishops made official their opposition to a health reform law rule requiring birth control coverage on Tuesday. The is “unjust and unlawful,” the bishops said in comments on the proposed regulation to Health and Human Services. The Obama administration’s “accommodation” for religious employers, requiring insurance companies to pay for the birth control coverage, doesn’t help, the bishops said (McCarthy, 5/15).

The Hill: Catholic Bishops Threaten Lawsuit Over Administration’s Birth Control Mandate
The Catholic Church’s U.S. hierarchy warned Tuesday that without quick action by Congress, it will sue the Obama administration for mandating that insurance plans provide birth control to women without a co-pay. “[F]orcing individual and institutional stakeholders to sponsor and subsidize an otherwise widely available product over their religious and moral objections serves no legitimate, let alone compelling, government interest,” lawyers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in a letter to federal regulators (Viebeck, 5/15).

Politico Pro: Bishops File Complaints On Contraception Rule
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday officially urged the Obama administration to change its policy of requiring many employers to provide insurance coverage of contraceptives. The bishops, in formal comments filed with HHS, reiterated many of their issues with the policy, saying it still requires employers, whether religious or not, to cover contraceptives. The bishops also say they’re uncomfortable with the government for the first time defining what is or is not a “religious employer” (Haberkorn, 5/15).

It will be interesting to see how much coverage this formal objection receives as well as how it’s played. And what do you think is the top line you would have gone with? Seems to me that “bishops threaten lawsuit” is both more accurate and newsier than “bishops say accommodation doesn’t do enough.”

Lawsuit image via Shutterstock.

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  • Jay

    Since we usually complain about press coverage, there were two sentences that I thought were really good.

    The Obama administration’s “accommodation” for religious employers, requiring insurance companies to pay for the birth control coverage, doesn’t help, the bishops said.

    As you said, the “compromise” didn’t really address the substance of the bishops’ concerns — and this sentence captures that, rather than distorts it by implying that it was a major concession.

    “[F]orcing individual and institutional stakeholders to sponsor and subsidize an otherwise widely available product over their religious and moral objections serves no legitimate, let alone compelling, government interest,” lawyers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in a letter to federal regulators

    Wow! Let the other side speak in their own words. In the 20th century, didn’t we call this idea “the money quote.”

  • Jeff

    “And what do you think is the top line you would have gone with? ”

    Bishops Say “Up Yours” to “President Kulturkampf”

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Mollie wrote:

    health insurance that covers free contraception, abortion drugs and sterilization:

    The AP – and most MSM outlets I’ve seen – wrote:

    health insurance that includes birth control for workers.

  • MikeL

    Passing By is right, the “abortion drugs and sterilization” clause really needs to be included to accurately describe the full scope of the mandate. I think the common “birth control” or “contraception” short-hand terminology hints at the fact that there is a divide over what constitutes “contraception,” i.e., can the word contraception be applied post-conception? Should sterilization be its own category? I would argue that the proper definition of contraception is something that renders intercourse infertile, so sterilization and abortifacient drugs fall outside that definition. Might be an interesting topic on its own.


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