Catholic Church Opposes Latest Version of HHS Birth Control Mandate

Catholic bishops
Bishops across the U.S. are taking action to teach and shape policy in the face of accelerating threats over the erosion of freedom of religion in America. Archbishop Dolan also named Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, to chair the new committee. Support for ad hoc committee work will include adding two full-time staff at the USCCB, a lawyer expert in the area of religious freedom law, and a lobbyist who will handle both religious liberty and marriage issues. |

The Catholic Church remains opposed to the Department of Health and Human Services' birth control mandate that was modified in August.

In comments submitted to the HHS, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the mandate remains a threat to the religious freedom of numerous faith-based organizations.

Anthony Picarello, USCCB general counsel, and Michael Moses, associate general counsel, submitted the comments to the HHS on Wednesday.

"…[T]he mandate continues to substantially burden the religious liberty of stakeholders with religious objections to the mandated coverage," wrote Picarello and Moses. "Because it does not further a compelling government interest by the means least restrictive of religious exercise, the mandate continues to violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

In August, the Obama administration announced "interim final regulations" regarding exemptions to the HHS mandate for entities to provide birth control coverage to their employees.

As a compromise, HHS had allowed for-profit entities not previously exempted from the mandate to fill out a form and send it to a third party who then provides contraceptives, including those believed to be abortion-inducing.

"The nonprofits can now directly inform the Department of Health and Human Services of their religious objections," reported The Washington Post. "HHS and the Labor Department will then coordinate contraception coverage with insurers and third party administrators. The nonprofits still have the option to notify a third party directly."

Many plaintiffs against HHS' "compromise" have argued that filling out the form and sending it to a third party who then provids the contraceptives continues to be a violation of their religious beliefs.

The new rule came in response to legal defeats, most notably last month when the U.S. Supreme Court said that Wheaton College, a Christian higher education institution that sued the government over the mandate, did not have to fill out the forms to receive an exemption.

Critics of the mandate quickly released statements arguing that the new August accommodation did not go far enough, arguing that filling out a form made them complicit in the provision of those services.

In August, the USCCB said that they were going to wait to release official comments until after they could thoroughly review the new rules.

USCCB president Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville offered a preliminary response expressing disappointment that HHS was not expanding the exemption to the mandate.

"On initial review of the government's summary of the regulations, we note with disappointment that the regulations would not broaden the 'religious employer' exemption to encompass all employers with sincerely held religious objections to the mandate," stated Kurtz.

"Instead, the regulations would only modify the 'accommodation,' under which the mandate still applies and still requires provision of the objectionable coverage."

The new August rules came in response to legal defeats the Obama administration experienced defending the mandate against entities like Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College.

At present, dozens of lawsuits are being argued in the court system against the mandate from various parties seeking exemption due to religious objections to part or all of the preventive services HHS says various employers must cover.

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