Legal Groups Unconvinced Final HHS Rules Protect Religious Freedom

Legal groups involved in lawsuits against the Department of Health and Human Services over its "preventive services" mandate believe the recently released finalized rules still attack religious freedom.

Groups like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Alliance Defending Freedom have criticized the finalized HHS rules, unconvinced that concerns over religious liberty have been resolved.  Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a statement released Friday afternoon that the HHS rules are "the same old, same old."

"As we said when the proposed rule was issued, this doesn't solve the religious conscience problem because it still makes our non-profit clients the gatekeepers to abortion and provides no protection to religious businesses," said Rassbach.

"Our Constitution and laws require them to protect religious exercise, but they really don't want to, so they are trying every trick in the book to avoid doing so. But we will keep suing until the courts make HHS comply with its obligations."

Gregory S. Baylor, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, stated that the new rules from HHS solve none of the issues surrounding religious freedom.

"The Obama administration insists on waging war on religious freedom, and the final rule issued today confirms that. It ignores the voices of numerous Americans who expressed concern about the mandate's impact on for-profit, faith-based job creators," said Baylor.

"And it does nothing to alleviate the concerns of the non-profit religious organizations we represent, who are still subject to the mandate."

On Friday afternoon, the White House announced that the new rules for HHS' controversial "preventive services" mandate were finalized.  According to the press release, these new rules were a reflection of feedback received back in February via public feedback.  The HHS rules provide accommodation for non-profit religious organizations opposed to contraceptive services on conscience grounds, including third-party insurers who provide the coverage for religious entities that self-insured employees.

"The health care law guarantees millions of women access to recommended preventive services at no cost," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement.  "Today's announcement reinforces our commitment to respect the concerns of houses of worship and other non-profit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage, while helping to ensure that women get the care they need, regardless of where they work."

News of the finalized HHS rules came not long after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention announced their intention to present an open letter to HHS over the mandate.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, stated Friday that a "more careful analysis" will need to be made before he forms an opinion on the rules issued.

"We appreciate the extension of the effective date by five months, which is readily apparent in the rule," said Dolan.  "The remainder of the rule is long and complex. It will require more careful analysis. We will provide a fuller statement when that analysis is complete."

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