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Does the new birth control mandate "compromise" really do anything to protect religious freedom?

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on Feb 5, 2013)

The Obama administration sparked a massive controversy last year when it was announced that a new federal mandate would require all health insurers and employers to include coverage in their health plans for every form of contraception approved by the FDA. The mandate also required coverage for sterilizations.

Faith groups who teach against the use of contraceptives became immediately fearful that such a mandate would force violations of conscience. Some Catholics view every form of contraceptive use as sinful. A far broader base of Christian people accepts the use of most contraceptives but opposes the use of abortifacient “emergency contraception,” like the “morning-after pill.”

Unfortunately, the Obama administration did little to allay their fears. While the mandate included a religious exemption, it only applied to church organizations themselves. It did not apply to church-affiliated non-profit institutions, such as hospitals, or to employers. An amendment was proposed that would have made provisions for employers to “refuse to include contraception in health care coverage if it violated their religious or moral beliefs.” The Blunt Amendment was voted down 51-48 by the U.S. Senate last March.

Between then and now, nothing much has changed. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Unites States Supreme Court, the Christian owners of the craft store chain Hobby Lobby announced at the beginning of this year that they would refuse to add the contraceptive coverage to their employee insurance plan. According to NPR, their attorney stated that they consider the emergency contraceptives “tantamount to abortion.” The company faced up to $1.3 million a day in fines for defying the mandate. Two weeks later, however, it was learned they had discovered a way to delay the fines. Peter M. Dobelbower, the company's general counsel, stated, “Hobby Lobby discovered a way to shift the plan year for its employee health insurance, thus postponing the effective date of the mandate for several months.” But their time is running out.

Late last week, the Obama administration released a new version of the infamous birth-control mandate. Religious and pro-life groups were hoping the new regulations would spell out broader conscience rights for employers – like the Hobby Lobby owners – and institutions whose faith prohibits them from funding sterilization and various forms of contraception. Sadly, after examining the altered version of the mandate, pro-life legal groups have bad news. The new proposal barely changes existing policy and still allows for no business or individual opt-out, they say.

Dr. Charmaine Yoest, CEO and President of Americans United for Life, stated Friday, “With another phony compromise, the Obama Administration continues to insult the intelligence of the American people and trample our Constitutionally-guaranteed rights.”

LifeNews reports of the new proposal that it will not have any impact on businesses run by people of faith, such as Bible publisher Tyndale House or Hobby Lobby. They also explain that it provides no options for individuals seeking plans that accommodate their values on the exchanges.”

So, what does the new proposal do? Well, the only major difference for people of faith seems to be that the religious exemption has been modified so that it no longer specifies that churches must have “inculcation of religious values” as their purpose and primarily employ and serve people of their same faith in order to qualify for the exemption.

This doesn’t sound like much of a concession, once you get down to it. The change only broadens the definition of a church for the purposes of the exemption, and does nothing to protect the conscience rights of for-profit employers and individuals. 

The absurdity of this state of affairs is truly remarkable. To state it plainly, the Obama administration has conceded the right of churches to opt-out of participating in the funding of procedures their faith prohibits, but won’t provide the means for members of these same churches to avoid violating the dictates of their faith in their workplaces. What is the point of protecting the rights of a church as an institution and then trampling the rights of the individuals that comprise that same institution?

 


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