HHS Issues Final Rule on Contraception Mandate

"Safe harbor" extended to Jan. 1, 2014.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services released the final rulemaking on the contraception mandate and religious organizations.

Legal experts are sifting through more than 100 pages of rulemaking to see if there is any breakthrough on the dispute between the Obama administration and religious employers that object to the mandate on moral grounds. The Becket Fund's website that provides updates on legal challenges to the mandate by for-profit and nonprofit plaintiffs is here

So far, today's news appears to offer only one limited reprieve that many anticated: The "safe harbor" deadline for compliance by religious employers that object to the mandate has been extended from Aug. 1, 2013, to Jan. 1, 2014.

While the U.S. bishops have yet to comment on the news, Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, provided the following statement in the wake of HHS' announcement, while predicting that additional litigation would commence soon:

"Unfortunately the final rule announced today is 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 nonprofit clients the gatekeepers to abortion and provides no protection to religious businesses. The easy way to resolve this would have been to exempt sincere religious employers completely, as the Constitution requires. Instead, this issue will have to be decided in court.”

The final rule fails to fix the HHS employer mandate’s fundamental problems:
Nonprofit religious employers are still dragooned into acting as gatekeepers to abortion.
Self-insured religious groups must hire administrators that pay for abortifacients and contraceptives.
Religious business owners still have to provide abortion-inducing drugs or pay up to millions of dollars in fines.