HHS Revision of Contraception and Abortion-Inducing Drugs Mandate Solves Little

In apparent recognition that last year’s rulemaking requiring almost all new health plans to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs is in conflict with the faith values of many Americans, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently proposed a modified “religious employer” exemption and a new “accommodation” for certain other non-profit religious organizations. Unfortunately, the slight broadening of the already very narrow exemption to “integrated auxiliaries” of churches and denominations does not help many religious organizations and individuals.  Also, the “accommodation,” which has been referred to as an “accounting gimmick” by pro-family observers, explicitly excludes for-profit organizations, including businesses like Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby, a chain of more than 500 arts and crafts stores in 41 states, could face federal fines of $1.3 million per day for its refusal to violate its conscience by complying with this mandate.

Last summer, when the current mandate came into effect, HHS celebrated the day as a victory for women, but noted, “The Obama administration will continue to work with all employers to give them the flexibility and resources they need to implement the health care law in a way that protects women’s health while making common-sense accommodations for values like religious liberty.” In a blog post, Amy Payne and Sarah Torre of the Heritage Foundation responded, “Religious liberty is a fundamental right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution, not a mere ‘value’ whose worth is subject to devaluation by any given Administration’s policy.”

HHS is accepting comments on its new proposal for 60 days after its official publication.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President Government Relations

Published: February 8, 2013