By Dave Andrusko
“The Obama administration’s latest revision of its contraceptive policy was welcomed by some religious people as a breakthrough, even a ‘miracle.’ Upon reflection, it seems less like the parting of the Red Sea than a parlor trick.” — Columnist Michael Gerson in Wednesday’s Washington Post.
As you read here last Friday, the Obama Administration offered still another patently insincere “accommodation” that, in fact, continues to compel countless employers to purchase health plans that will pay for drugs and procedures to which they are opposed on moral and religious grounds. For a nonprofit organization that “holds itself out as a religious organization,” the Administration claims that it is relieving the employer of the moral conflict by obligating the insurer to pay for the objected-to drugs and services. This is a subterfuge, since the employees would not be getting the objected-to services if the religious employer was not paying for the health plan.
The “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” on the HHS mandate, as NRLC explained, failed on several grounds:
(1) The Administration once again puts forward the rationale that “issuers generally would find that providing such contraceptive coverage is cost neutral because they would be insuring the same set of individuals under both policies and would experience lower costs from improvements in women’s health and fewer childbirths.” This justification — which essentially argues that contraceptive coverage really costs nothing — could later be employed by the Administration to attempt to mandate coverage of surgical abortions in at least some health plans, on similar grounds that each abortion prevents the higher costs of prenatal care and childbirth.
(2) The proposed revision also continues to apply the mandate to for-profit businesses run by people of faith, and provides no options for individuals seeking plans that accommodate their values on the health insurance exchanges established by ObamaCare.
Commentary has flown hot and heavy, both by critics and supporters. For example, the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty (along with the Alliance Defending Freedom) has performed yeoman work defending religious liberties.
“We are extremely disappointed with [Friday’s] announcement,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “HHS waited nearly a year and then gave us a proposed rule that still burdens religious liberty. It also gives no concrete guidance to self-insured religious organizations like Wheaton College.” Duncan added, “We remain committed to protecting religious liberty until the Administration recognizes the conscience rights of all Americans.”
The scholar Yuval Levin, writing at National Review online, concludes that new HHS mandate proposal, “like the versions that have preceded it, betrays a complete lack of understanding of both religious liberty and religious conscience.”
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput observes that while “At first glance, the new rules have struck some people as a modest improvement,” the “trouble is, the new rules are very complex. And they may actually make things worse.”
And, to take just one other example, Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor-at-large of National Review Online, today nicely explained the inadequacies of the defense of the new rules offered by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.
Dionne maintains that the Catholic Church, among others, was and is flatly wrong for “arguing its case on the grounds of ‘religious liberty.’” [Note the quotation marks.] Lopez points out that Dionne sees this battle as one where liberals face off against conservatives. But, she writes,
“This is not a party issue, this is an American issue, one we owe it to people throughout the world who crave the freedom we’ve had to get right.”
To return to Gerson’s superb column, a quote from which we began this post, Gerson argues that the Obama Administration
“is establishing a pattern of announcing revisions that include few substantive concessions. This strategy is clearly motivated by the courts, which have pressed for clarification on implementation of the mandate. Recent changes seem narrowly tailored to better withstand judicial scrutiny — without shifting the policy itself.”
NRLC hit the nail on the head last week when it said. “ the Obama Administration once again employs changes in packaging in an attempt to conceal continuity in substance.”