HHS revises mandate third time; foes say it misses the point
A slight revision of the federal contraception mandate offers some additional protection for certain religious employers but is not sufficient to ease religious freedom concerns, said a lawyer who is working to challenge the mandate in court.
Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA on Aug. 27 that the Obama administration is governing by “sloppy executive fiat” and is failing to address the underlying problem with the controversial mandate.
She explained that for the third time in seven months, the federal government has rewritten the guidelines for the “safe harbor” that offers a one-year reprieve from the mandate to some non-profit religious organizations that object to its demands.
“They’re making it up as they go along,” she said. “They haven’t really thought through these issues carefully.”
The Becket Fund is representing Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in Illinois, in a lawsuit challenging the mandate. The controversial rule requires employers to offer health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
Wheaton College argued that the mandate violated its religious freedom and filed for a preliminary injunction preventing its enforcement.
As a result, the federal government changed the safe harbor requirements, allowing Wheaton College to qualify for the temporary delay in the mandate.
Smith observed that the safe harbor, as it had previously been written, did not apply to Wheaton. The Christian college does not object to all forms of contraception, but only to products that cause early abortions, she said.
Initially, the safe harbor did not apply to employers that offered coverage of some contraceptives, she explained, but that regulation has now been changed to include those that accept certain elements of the coverage while objecting to others. [More]