Washington, DC – The Obama administration released the revised version of its contraceptive mandate on Friday, redefining the phrase “religious employer,” while still mandating for-profit religious business owners to cover what many contend are abortion-inducing drugs.
In outlining the redefinition, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) ensured that all churches and their related entities would be exempt from the mandate. A charity run by a church at a separate location would not be required to cover contraception.
The original HHS rules required that the entity have “the inculcation of religious values as its purpose;” however, some religious organizations contended that their focus is not always discipleship as they may at times hire those not of the faith. Therefore, the definition has been updated to utilize the same language used by the IRS in the current tax code.
Universities and religious hospitals can also now take part in the exemption by becoming a non-profit entity and proving their religious affiliation, in which case the insurance company will now pay for the contraceptives instead of the organization.
However, still missing from the revised rule is any exemption for religious-owned, for-profit businesses. Subsequently, while many of the Catholic and university-based lawsuits against Obamacare may now be moot, business-related suits will remain an issue.
As previously reported, numerous businesses across the country have filed federal challenges against Obamacare, stating that following its mandates to cover the costs of pills that they believe induce abortions would equate to violating their faith.
One of the most notable Christian-owned businesses that has been fighting the mandate is the popular craft chain Hobby Lobby. As previously reported, Hobby Lobby, owned by evangelical Christian David Green, had been seeking an emergency injunction against Obamacare from all available venues since its request was first turned down by a federal district court in Oklahoma City. While Hobby Lobby states that it has been covering, and will continue to cover, birth control for its over 13,000 employees nationwide, it refuses to pay for two pills that are included in Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate: the morning-after pill and the week-after pill.
U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton, appointed by George W. Bush, ruled against the company in November, opining that Hobby Lobby and its bookstore chain Mardel are not entitled to an exemption from the national healthcare law because “Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations.” He stated that while churches and non-profit entities may qualify for an exemption under Obamacare, a secular business is not a religious institution.
The company then appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, asking the court that it overturn the lower court’s decision and grant the injunction. However, the three-judge panel refused to issue the restraining order, stating similar reasoning as Heaton.
Hobby Lobby then took its request to the nation’s highest court, but Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that it was not “indisputably clear” that Hobby Lobby’s request met the very high bar needed for an injunction. She pointed to the fact that the various circuit courts have been divided on the matter, insinuating that the craft chain still has a chance at eventually winning.
Now, following the release of the new rules, it seems that the fight will indeed have to move forward, disappointing many legal organizations.
“The administration’s narrow gesture does nothing to protect many faith-based employers or religious families from the unconstitutional abortion pill mandate,” wrote the group Alliance Defending Freedom following the issuance of the amendments by the Health and Human Services Department. “The government has no business putting religious freedom on the negotiating table, or picking and choosing who is allowed to exercise faith.”