Despite a months-long lobbying effort waged by faith-based organizations — and close scrutiny from the media — the Obama administration announced Friday it will not allow religious groups an exemption from a federal health care law mandating that all employers provide insurance that covers contraceptive devices and drugs.
Instead, the White House gave faith-based groups an extra year to comply with the mandate, instead of the Aug. 1, 2012 deadline all secular employers are facing.
And that means religious employers who find contraception and possible abortifacient drugs to be immoral have only one year to decide whether to follow the law, or the dictates of their faith.
“This mandate drives up health care costs and is perniciously targeted at religious providers, who selflessly and compassionately serve the poorest and most vulnerable,” U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), said in a statement. “Under this rule, within a year, religiously affiliated medical providers would have to fire and refuse to treat persons of other faiths in order to uphold their own deeply held beliefs — or be forced …to close their doors rather than violate tents of their religion. This is forced discrimination. This is wrong. No American should be forced to choose between their faith and their job.”
Fortenberry is the sponsor of a bill — HR 1179 — that would ensure religious health care providers, such as Catholic hospitals, are able to practice both their professions and their faith simultaneously. Since Friday, several pro-life groups have been calling on constituents to support the bill, which was introduced last year and has 97 cosponsors.
U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Friday that all “FDA-approved” contraceptive measures should be available to every woman nationwide, free of charge — so everyone will have a share of bearing the cost of subsidizing them, regardless of moral or religious beliefs. The only exception is for religious organizations that employ and treat only members of their own faith.
“Women will not have to forego these services because of expensive co-pays or deductibles, or because an insurance plan doesn’t include contraceptive devices,” she wrote in a statement. “This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”
Faith groups, however, don’t see it that way at all.
“Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state,” said Galen Carey, vice president for government relations at the National Association of Evangelicals. “”No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience. The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.
“If this narrow definition of ‘religious employer’ is adopted in other areas of law, it may lead to further erosion of the conscience protections Americans have historically held.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Read Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ Jan. 20, 2012 statement.
Read HR 1179, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.