Late last week, on Friday afternoon, while most of us were checking out of work (mentally if not physically) and focusing on the weekend, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a press release informing of yet another revision to its contraceptive/abortion pill mandate. As it turns out, we didn't miss much.
The HHS was obliged to make changes following the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which struck down the Mandate as it applies to closely held for-profit corporations. Also, the HHS could hardly ignore the string of subsequent court rulings casting doubt on the propriety of an "accommodation" the department set aside for religious non-profits.
Like a number of federal courts figured out, the "accommodation" given to religious non-profits is not very accommodating. The HHS decided they'd make the insurance company, and not the ministry, pay for contraceptive and abortion services, conveniently ignoring the real-world effect of increased premiums that cause employers to cover the additional costs in a back-door way. And, HHS glosses over the actual concern: More than just paying for it, Christian ministries are compelled to be deal-brokers between their own employees and providers of highly objectionable services. But for the employment, their employees do not receive free abortions.
Under this so-called "accommodation," religious non-profits are constrained to arrange services that betray their mission, conscience, and identity, and are told to like it.
In the face of this quandary, we have – as of last Friday – the HHS's most recent stab at this Mandate. The new version creates a new way for religious non-profits to communicate their objections. Instead of informing their insurance company directly, they tell the federal government, who, in turn, advises the insurance company of the concern. Then, as previously required, the insurance company makes arrangements with the employees to supply coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients. Regarding closely held for-profits, HHS is planning on applying the same "accommodation" to them, and is soliciting public feedback on the idea in the interim.
That's it. I had to read the rules three times to make sure my contacts were working correctly and I didn't miss anything. The government presumes that their grossly unconstitutional interference with religious freedom and conscience can be rectified by adding an extra layer of bureaucracy.
The religious non-profit is still required to facilitate the provision of abortion-related pills and services to their employees, but, as solace, the HHS says they can avoid awkward discussions with their insurance agent about it.
If any doubt existed prior to this recent rule, none does now: Either the HHS doesn't get it or doesn't care.
Part of the fanfare with the purportedly new rule, Secretary Sylvia Burwell boasts in the press release: "Women across the country deserve access to recommended preventive services that are important to their health, no matter where they work."
Let's translate this statement, and break it down, so we can all understand what our government is telling us. By "access," the HHS means to say abortion-related services ought to be free, by "recommended preventive services," the HHS connotes contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs, which use the government highly recommends to women, by "important to health," HHS is referring to a political agenda that is important to the Administration, and by "no matter where they work." HHS really means that this political agenda trumps the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The HHS latest spin on the Mandate is as unconstitutional as all previous offerings.
Given the action (or rather inaction) of the HHS on the issue, it is inevitable for the Supreme Court to step in and take another hard look at the Mandate, this time, addressing the government's notion of an accommodation for those with religiously based objections.
Though the Supreme Court tends to handle these types of matters in piecemeal fashion, in this or some similar case, they must eventually decide: Is it okay to force people of faith to abandon their earnestly-held religious beliefs to participate in the marketplace?