The legal and political dispute over the HHS mandate, which requires all employers in the United States to provide employees with coverage for contraception, sterilization, and even abortifacient drugs, continues into the year 2013. This mandate violates the consciences of religious employers who cannot morally pay for these drugs and procedures. A narrow exemption was granted to church employers, yet failed to exempt other religious employers like Catholic universities, Catholic hospitals and Catholic Charities.
The Obama Administration granted some religious employers an “accommodation” which allowed them until August 2013 to comply with the mandate. Lawsuits won by religious universities like Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College required the Administration to rewrite and propose a new rule for religious non-profits. On February 1st, 2013 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) submitted a new proposal for implementing the HHS mandate. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on February 7th released the following statement in which the Bishops look forward to finding acceptable solutions to the new proposed rule.
While the Bishops welcome further discussion with the Administration, they consider the new proposal inadequate in addressing their concerns. Cardinal Dolan stated that the proposal divides religious ministries into first-class and second-class institutions, in which churches and parishes are protected, but Catholic hospitals, Catholic Charities, and Catholic universities do not have the same exemption. The Bishops are concerned that the Administration does not recognize these ministries as integral to the Catholic Church.
As of August 2012, for-profit employers were required to comply with the HHS mandate or be subject to hefty fines. Many for-profit companies sued the federal government over the mandate. Most were granted injunctions postponing compliance with the mandate while they continue their legal battles against it.
The stakes for religious liberty are high, and the USCCB is committed to assure that “health care for all does not mean freedom for few.”