”We believe that this mandate is unjust and unlawful – it is bad health policy, and because it entails an element of government coercion against conscience, it creates a religious freedom problem.”
That’s the good word from the USCCB regarding the HHS Mandate. The comments of the bishops “were submitted in response to an HHS Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on preventive services” by Anthony Picarello (see phot0 above), USCCB associate general secretary and general counsel, and Michael Moses, associate general counsel.
The comments outlined six points:
First, the ANPRM does not change the fact that contraceptive services are included in the list of mandated preventive services. This has remained unchanged from an earlier regulation announced in August 2011.
Second, the ANPRM does not change the administration’s criteria for defining “religious employers” exempted from the mandate, an exemption that USCCB calls “unprecedented in federal law, improperly narrow, and unlawful.” These criteria include that employers primarily hire and serve only members of their own religion.
Third, many stakeholders in the health insurance process—religious and secular insurers, religious and secular for-profit employers, individual policy-holders, and others—with a conscientious objection to the mandate are completely ineligible for the exemption. The ANPRM does not acknowledge or address this problem, and as a result, those stakeholders “will be required in the next few months either to drop out of the health insurance marketplace, potentially triggering crippling penalties, or to provide coverage that violates their deeply-held convictions.”
Fourth, while the administration has invited public comment on some further “accommodation” for certain non-exempt religious organizations, secular stakeholders will receive no such accommodation. “We believe that the contraceptive mandate violates the religious and conscience rights of these stakeholders as well and is unlawful.”
Fifth, regardless of the definition of “religious organization,” the central problem remains, that “conscientiously-objecting non-exempt religious organizations will still be required to provide plans that serve as a conduit for contraceptives and sterilization procedures to their own employees, and their premiums will help pay for those items.” The administration has invited comment on different approaches for how to deal with a self-insured employer, but “none of them will solve the problems that the mandate creates for non-exempt religious organizations with a conscientious objection to contraceptive coverage.”
Sixth, the ANPRM raises new questions such as whether employers must be independently exempt for their employees to participate in an exempt plan, whether religious objection to some, but not all, contraceptives should be accommodated and whether a past practice of mistakenly or unknowingly covering contraceptives should disqualify one from accommodation.
“In each case, we urge resolution of these questions in favor of more, not less, religious freedom,” Picarello and Moses wrote.
Read the rest here. Have you made your comments known to the Administration yet, dear reader? I have to admit that I was underwhelmed to learn that since the HHS Department opened up the rule for public comments back in March, only 211 folks had the gumption to let them know what they thought. “We few, we happy few…” is one thing but only 211 (plus the USCCB makes 212)?! That is a pretty slim margin of motivated and a very wide margin of apathy. Maybe my accounting skills are whacked.
If you would like to join our bishops and share your comments with the HHS Department too, go here and give them your $.02.
Image Credit: Catholic News Service.