The Obama administration announced “updates” this morning to Obamacare’s abortion mandate. The original mandate was a shell-game, and this latest “change” is only more of the same. The original rule required religious employers to pay money to an insurance company that would then provide abortion-inducing drugs for employees that wanted them. That is still true today despite the overhyped announcement. There’s no substantive difference. The changes are cosmetic at best. The underlying religious objection has not been addressed, and employers would still be morally implicated in paying for abortion-inducing drugs for their employees.
Today’s announcement comes after some of the lawsuits against the mandate were put on hold until the Obama administration clarified its religious exemptions. This morning’s announcement provided some clarity, but it did not provide any relief for employers who object to covering abortion-inducing drugs. In short, the Obamacare mandate is every bit as offensive to religious liberty now as it was before the announcement this morning. The Washington Post describes “change” this way:
Under this proposal, objecting nonprofits will be allowed to offer employees a plan that does not cover contraceptives. Their health insurer will then automatically enroll employees in a separate individual policy, which only covers contraceptives, at no cost. This policy would stand apart from the employer’s larger benefit package.
The faith-based employer would not “have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds.”
Before the announcement, CNN had reported that religious non-profits would be able to opt-out of the abortion mandate. Even now, both The Washington Post and The New York Times are spinning this news as a “compromise.” But it is no such thing. The new rule is still too narrow and only exempts houses of worship and their affiliates. Other religious employers are in the same boat that they were before. In essence, the Obama administration has dug in its heels and is gambling that it will win the challenges in court. Indeed, a senior official in the Obama administration tells Politico,
The proposed new rules… were aimed more at strengthening the administration’s hand in court than winning over the Catholic and other religious groups that objected to the Obamacare provision.
So beware of the spin. There is no compromise here, but the papers of record have obscured that fact.
Sam Baker reports for The Hill what this “update” really means: “HHS rejects calls to expand contraception mandate exceptions.” Baker writes:
The Health and Human Services Department rejected calls to let any employer opt out of the mandate based on religious objections to contraception. Instead, the department released regulations that hew largely to the policy it had previously announced… Religious-affiliated insurers, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, would still be exempt from paying for the coverage directly, but their employees would still be able to access contraception without any cost-sharing through their insurance company.
In short, there is no exemption for religiously affiliated organizations. Catholic hospitals, Wheaton College and other religious groups that have filed suit are still having their first amendment rights trampled upon. Obamacare still requires them to implicate themselves in providing chemical abortions to their employees.
This policy delivers on the promise of women having access to birth control without co-pays no matter where they work… This policy makes it clear that your boss does not get to decide whether you can have birth control.
Planned Parenthood has reason to be confident. White House spokesman Jay Carney was quick to assure everyone that the new “opt-out” would not prevent women from obtaining abortion-inducing drugs. No one will be “opting-out” under this new agreement. And that is why Planned Parenthood lauded today’s news. It probably helps as well that abortion rights groups were briefed personally by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. I wonder if she gave a briefing to pro-life groups as well?
One more thing. These “changes” don’t even pretend to offer relief for for-profit employers like Hobby Lobby, whose first amendment freedoms have been no less trampled upon than the religious non-profits. As I noted in my last post, the courts have been trending against the mandate (though Hobby Lobby is a notable exception), which means that this mandate is going to end up in the Supreme Court. The best case scenario for for-profits is that the mandate would be stopped cold there.
Obamacare’s abortion mandate is the most egregious violation of religious liberty that I have ever seen. It must not stand. Let’s hope and pray that it doesn’t.