WASHINGTON— The general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops states that the current proposed revisions of the Obama Administration’s contraceptive mandate are “an unprecedented …violation of religious liberty by the federal government” and must be changed.
The statement is in comments filed March 20 regarding the mandate, which requires most health plans in the United States to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and related education and counseling.
The comments, made on the USCCB’s behalf by Anthony R. Picarello, USCCB associate general secretary and general counsel, and Michael F. Moses, associate general counsel, note a number of continuing problems with the regulations, which had been the subject of earlier rulemaking and comment by the USCCB. The comments state:
First, like earlier iterations of the regulation, the latest proposal requires coverage of items and procedures that, unlike other mandated “preventive services,” do not prevent disease. Instead, they are associated with an increased risk of adverse health outcomes, including conditions that other “preventive services” are designed to prevent.
Second, no exemption or accommodation is available at all for the vast majority of individual or institutional stakeholders with religious or moral objections to contraceptive coverage. Virtually all Americans who enroll in a health plan will ultimately be required to have contraceptive coverage for themselves and their dependents, whether they want it or not.
Third, although the definition of an exempt “religious employer” has been revised to eliminate some of the intrusive and constitutionally improper government inquiries into religious teaching and beliefs that were inherent in an earlier definition, the current proposal continues to define “religious employer” in a way that, by the government’s own admission, excludes (and therefore subjects to the mandate) a wide array of employers that are undeniably religious. Generally the nonprofit religious organizations that fall on the “non-exempt” side of this religious gerrymander include those organizations that contribute most visibly to the common good through the provision of health, educational, and social services.
Fourth, the Administration has offered what it calls an “accommodation” for nonprofit religious organizations that fall outside its narrow definition of “religious employer.” The “accommodation” is based on a number of questionable factual assumptions. Even if all of those assumptions were sound, the “accommodation” still requires the objecting religious organization to fund or otherwise facilitate the morally objectionable coverage.
Fifth, the mandate continues to represent an unprecedented (and now sustained) violation of religious liberty by the federal government. As applied to individuals and organizations with a religious objection to contraceptive coverage, the mandate violates the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
“We are willing, now as always, to work with the Administration to reach a just and lawful resolution of these issues. In the meantime, along with others, we will continue to look for resolution of these issues in Congress and in the courts,” Picarello and Moses write.
The full text of the comments is available athttp://www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/rulemaking/upload/2013-NPRM-Comments-3-20-final.pdf