(Photo: REUTERS / Joshua Roberts)
The Department of Health and Human Services announced on Friday proposed accommodations for religious groups concerning the controversial contraceptive mandate, but a number of religious freedom advocacy groups have said that the proposals do not go far enough.
"Today, the administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "We will continue to work with faith-based organizations, women's organizations, insurers and others to achieve these goals."
Catholic-based groups have protested against the HHS mandate ever since it was announced that they would have to offer employees insurance that provides access to birth control, which is against Roman Catholic doctrine. And other Christian groups have also joined in against the mandate because it includes coverage of abortifacient drugs. The current provision allows for a very narrow exemption for some religious groups, but Christian-owned companies like Hobby Lobby, and Christian-oriented businesses like Tyndale House Publishers and schools like Wheaton College are not exempt, and have filed lawsuits against the government's birth control mandate.
The new deal basically provides broader exclusions for religious organizations and tries to seek a middle-ground between religious concerns and the goals of Obamacare to provide health insurance access to all. "We had to ensure that women have access to preventive services like contraception and that the policy respects religious beliefs," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
A number of conservative groups, many of who have argued in court against the HHS mandate, have said that nothing much was proposed on Friday and that the accommodations do not directly address the concerns of those with a moral objection to the contraceptive provision.
"There must be no religious 'test' by the government as to who, and what type of entities, are entitled to a conscience," said pro-life Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, referring to the number of cases where the White House administration has attempted to deny applications for this exemption to groups it does not deem to be religious.
"After over a year of litigation, our clients and many others like them were hoping for much, much more from the administration," added Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, according to Fox News.
HHS Deputy Director of Policy and Regulation Chiquita Brooks-LaSure noted, however, that the new rules are "not yet final," and that the conversation over how to best amend the mandate continues.
"No nonprofit religious institution will be forced to pay for or provide contraceptive coverage, and churches and houses of worship are specifically exempt," Brooks-LaSure said.