WASHINGTON — The Obama administration released its final revised rules surrounding its controversial contraception mandate on Friday, which pro-life organizations note still lacks an exemption for religious-owned businesses.
As previously reported, last December, two colleges won a challenge against Obamacare’s abortion pill mandate after the government vowed that it would rewrite the requirement so that it would not to pertain to sectarian educational institutions.
Wheaton College, a Christian entity located not far from Chicago, Illinois, and Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic institution west of Charlotte, North Carolina, both previously had their lawsuits dismissed by lower courts. However, during proceedings in the appellate courts, the Health and Human Services Department promised that it would make an adjustment to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare to exempt colleges like Wheaton and Belmont Abbey.
In February, the administration released a draft of its revised rules, redefining the phrase “religious employer,” and allowing universities and religious hospitals to take part in the exemption. In such cases, the insurance company will pay for the contraceptives instead of the organization. On Friday, the mandate was officially finalized.
“Today’s announcement reinforces our commitment to respect the concerns of houses of worship and other non-profit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage, while helping to ensure that women get the care they need, regardless of where they work,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.
However, pro-life organizations said that the revised rule did not go far enough to protect religious freedom, specifically in regard to religious-owned businesses.
“When it comes to religious liberty, the Department of Health and Human Services is acting like a kid who doesn’t want to eat his lima beans,” said Eric Rassbach of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has been representing the craft chain Hobby Lobby in the courts, as well as numerous other non-profit institutions. “Our Constitution and laws require them to protect religious exercise, but they really don’t want to, so they are trying every trick in the book to avoid doing so. But we will keep suing until the courts make HHS comply with its obligations.”
“Unfortunately the final rule announced today is the same old, same old. As we said when the proposed rule was issued, this doesn’t solve the religious conscience problem because it still makes our non-profit clients the gatekeepers to abortion and provides no protection to religious businesses,” he stated. “The easy way to resolve this would have been to exempt sincere religious employers completely, as the Constitution requires. Instead this issue will have to be decided in court.”
Gregory Baylor, senior counsel at the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, released similar comments.
“All Americans should be free to live according to their faith rather than be forced into violating that faith. The Obama administration insists on waging war on religious freedom, and the final rule issued today confirms that,” he said. “It ignores the voices of numerous Americans who expressed concern about the mandate’s impact on for-profit, faith-based job creators. And it does nothing to alleviate the concerns of the non-profit religious organizations we represent, who are still subject to the mandate.”
“On multiple levels, the president is articulating what is arguably the most narrow view of religious freedom ever expressed by an administration in this nation’s history,” he added.
In spite of the new rules not containing an exemption for religious businesses, this week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, reversing the denial of a federal injunction and sending the matter back to the district court for further review.
“A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values,” the panel wrote. “As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other.”
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