From the National Catholic *Reporter* (not Register):
Taking a conciliatory tone and asking for a wide range of public comment, the Obama administration announced this afternoon new accommodations on a controversial mandate requiring contraceptive coverage in health care plans.
Coming after a month of continued opposition from the U.S. bishops to the mandate, which was first revised in early February to exempt certain religious organizations, today’s announced changes from the Department of Health and Human Services make a number of concessions, including allowing religious organizations that self-insure to be made exempt.
Also raised is the possibility that the definition given for religious employers in the original mandate could be changed.
. . .
News of the changes also came as a separate ruling on student health insurance coverage was announced by the Department of Health and Human Services this afternoon. Under that ruling, health care plans for students would be treated like those of employees of colleges and universities—meaning the colleges will have to provide contraceptive services to students without co-pay.
Religiously affiliated colleges and universities, however, would be shielded from this ruling, according to a statement from the HHS.
“In the same way that religious colleges and universities will not have to pay, arrange or refer for contraceptive coverage for their employees, they will not have to do so for their students who will get such coverage directly and separately from their insurer,” the statement said.
In the 32-page proposal on the broader health care mandate published in the Federal Register today, the Health and Human Services Department says it is not yet making final rules on the contraceptive mandate, but is instead issuing questions and suggestions for a 90-day comment period to begin today.
Repeatedly, throughout the document, the federal departments involved in the ruling—which include Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury—ask for advice on how best to address several issues raised by the mandate.
The federal departments, the document says, “seek input on these options, particularly how to enable religious organizations to avoid such objectionable cooperation when it comes to the funding of contraceptive coverage, as well as new ideas to inform the next stage of the rulemaking process.”
Among the suggestions made in the document, known as a “proposed rulemaking,” is that self-insuring employers with a religious affiliation be given several options to ensure that they will not have to cover contraceptive services. Included in the possibilities is the use of a system of third-party administrators to administer the coverage.
While the original version of the mandate defined religious employers as those which primarily serve or hire those of their faith, the rulemaking acknowledges that federal law in other areas define religious employers more broadly.
A few thoughts:
1) Note that this was in a Friday news dump from the administration, to have minimal news impact.
2) The provisions, while welcome, do not go far enough. Nobody should be required to pay for abortion and contraceptive services against their will. Religious freedom matters for everybody, not just the minimum number that the Obama administration thinks it must grant religious freedom to.
3) This is a sign of weakness. The Obama administration has begun to realize how badly it has burned itself by its thuggish, totalitarian move to restrict freedom of religion to freedom of worship in this country.
4) This is not the time for the bishops or others to go soft. It’s time to press further and demand full respect for religious liberty. Caving at the first opportunity would be a grave mistake.
5) Ignore analysis about tone (e.g., taking a conciliatry tone, dialing back rhetoric, etc.). Tone is just the wrapping on the package. What’s inside the package is what counts.
What do you think?